A forensic pathologist is not permitted to state for instance that someone has committed suicide. That is the job of the coroner (or a coroner's jury if called). The pathologist or any expert giving evidence can voice an opinion though, indeed many people would expect him to I think.
Our forensic expert would obviously report on the examination he has made and record the results of any relevant tests. It might be that he could usefully give an opinion but the problem then is that the coroner or the person chairing an inquiry might receive that opinion without submitting it to critical appraisal. In the case of Dr Kelly's death it seems that both Mr Gardiner and Lord Hutton accepted what Dr Hunt said - there is no evidence at all that they scrutinised his report with a view to raising questions about it.
I particularly want to draw attention to conclusions 7 and 8 in Dr Hunt's final report dated 25 July 2003. They are reproduced below:
7. The fact that the watch appears to have been removed whilst blood was already flowing suggests that it has been removed deliberately in order to facilitate access to the wrist. The removal of the watch in this way and indeed the removal of the spectacles are features pointing towards this being an act of self-harm.
8. Other features at the scene which would tend to support this impression include the relatively passive distribution of blood, the neat way in which the water bottle and its top were placed, the lack of obvious signs of trampling of the undergrowth or damage to clothing. The location of death is also of interest in this respect as it is clearly a very pleasant yet relatively private spot of the type that is sometimes chosen by people intent upon self-harm.
These conclusions are totally speculative. If there had been a murder and it was decided that the murder scene be made to look like suicide then Dr Hunt's observations would similarly apply I suggest. There is no evidence that Dr Hunt considered the possibility that here was a murder dressed up as suicide.
If carried out with a degree of professionalism then it can be readily understood that, with no witnesses to the death, a murder could be made to look like suicide. It is the case of course that a coroner isn't depending solely on "forensic" evidence if he is considering a verdict of suicide ... he MUST also see proof of intent. All of the proof, forensic and evidence of intent has to be "beyond reasonable doubt".
The possibility that Dr Kelly could have been incapacitated and carried to the spot where he was found cannot be ignored.
Dr Hunt refers to 'the neat way in which the water bottle and its top were placed'. In a later post I shall explain why this is highly suggestive of third party involvement.
Dr Hunt had written a preliminary (unpublished) report on 19 July 2003 and a final report on 25 July, this latter one was the one published on the internet on 22 October 2010. As I shall explain in my next post we know at least that he had arrived at conclusion 7 on the 19th.
It is quite extraordinary that Dr Hunt was able to come so definitively to conclusions 7 and 8 and to be seemingly convinced that this was an act of self-harm.