Sunday, 29 July 2012

The death of Dr Kelly's mother

Keith Hawton, Professor of Psychiatry, was one of several witnesses to make a second visit to the Inquiry.  His return on 16 September appears to have been primarily concerned with the presumed suicide of David Kelly's mother while he was studying at university.  Mr Dingemans asked whether his mother's death might have had an influence on Dr Kelly committing suicide.  This is the exchange:

Q. You have given evidence to the Inquiry on 2nd September.  Had you, before you gave evidence, interviewed  Mrs Kelly? 
A. I had.
Q. And had she provided information to you to the effect that Dr Kelly had confided in her his belief that his mother, who had suffered a stroke, might have committed suicide although an open verdict had been recorded at the inquest?
A. Yes, she did.
Q. That was not adduced in your oral evidence to the Inquiry on 2nd September.  At that stage, what was your view about its possible relevance?
A. I think the relevance of that fact was extremely uncertain and would have been speculation to have put forward.
Q. Have you since you gave evidence on 2nd September received further information?
A. I have.
Q. And what is that further information?
A. I have received three items of information. One is a copy of a letter that was sent by Martin Hemming, legal adviser to the Ministry of Defence, to the solicitor for the Inquiry on 22nd September.  Another piece of information was a copy of the register of Dr Kelly's mother's death, the register entry I should say, and the third was a copy of an entry by a general practitioner in Leeds on Dr Kelly when he was a --
presumably a student at Leeds University in 1964.
Q. Turning first to the letter from the legal adviser to the Ministry of Defence. What relevant information does that disclose?
A. I will read what it says. It says: "I enclose two extracts from Dr Kelly's vetting file which were prepared based on a report prepared by the investigating officer handling his initial positive vetting clearance in 1985. The first records an interview on 20th November 1985 with Dr Kelly in which he referred to his mother's death."  The relevant passage, quoting from the letter, reads: "'Dr Kelly said his mother died by her own hand in 1964, never having remarried. For many years prior to her death she suffered from depression and he has little doubt that the verdict of the coroner at the inquest into her death that the balance of her mind was disturbed was correct.'"
Q. Was there any other information in the letter?
A. Yes, there is a -- as follows: "The second extract --
LORD HUTTON: I think there should be no reference to anyone's name, Professor Hawton, or to any particular locality.
A. I understand. The second extract reports an interview on 28th November with a friend of Dr Kelly who had known him for many years, who he had nominated as one of his character referees. I am quoting here. The relevant passage seems to be as follows:  "The main incident in their lives that had brought them ..."   Sorry: "He thought that the main incident in their lives that had brought them closer friendship was that their mothers each took their own life within a short period of each other. They were in many ways able to give each other encouragement and help following these tragedies, which helped them to develop a closer bond of friendship between them."  Then another following extract: "He recalls the death of his mother [here one assumes he is referring to Dr Kelly, Dr Kelly's mother], which occurred at a time during his student days at the University of Leeds and was known to be engrossed in his studies and whilst the tragedy distressed him, he appeared to ride the period well and at no time when [they] were together did he display any mental reaction to this unfortunate matter. In fact, the referee said 'he can be considered a well balanced person'."
MR DINGEMANS: Turning to the second piece of information which I think you have told us was entry on the death register. Can you identify any relevant and only relevant extracts?
A. This concerns, as I said earlier, Margaret Kelly's death, that is Dr Kelly's mother's death, on 13th May 1964, and the cause of death is stated as bronchopneumonia, that is a chest infection due to barbiturate poison, and an open verdict was given.
Q. So it was an open verdict?
A. Yes.

Q. And the final piece of information, I think you referred to some GP records.
A. Yes, there is a GP record just dated May 1964, the specific date is not given. I think one can deduce it was following Dr Kelly's mother's death. It reads as follows: "Insomnia following death of mother". Then there is an indication that a tranquilliser was prescribed.
Q. In what ways might this further information be relevant?
A. I think it is uncertain whether this adds anything further to the information that I had already had at the time of my previous appearance at the Inquiry.
Q. Are there three possible ways in which suicide in a family can potentially be relevant?
A. Yes, indeed. The first way is fairly clear, and that is through transmission through generations, in other words from parents to children, of severe mental illnesses which are known to be associated with risk of suicide, and the evidence suggests this is largely a genetic transmission. The sorts of illnesses one is referring to here are manic depressive illness, for example, severe depression, alcoholism and so on.
Q. From what we have heard about Dr Kelly there does not appear to be any evidence of that, is that right?
A. No, I do not think this applies. There is certainly no evidence that he had significant mental illness, either at the time of his death or previously.
Q. The second way in which it might be relevant?
A. Well, the second way -- and we get on to slightly less certain ground here -- is through transmission of -- through generations of certain personality characteristics which might increase the risk of suicide.
Q. In the past you told us that those characteristic traits would be, for example, aggression, impulsiveness.
A. Hmm.
Q. Is there any evidence that Dr Kelly had those personality traits?
A. Absolutely not, and indeed the reverse I would say.
Q. So we come to the third possible way. What is that?
A. Well, this gets into a much more uncertain area and this is whether having a suicide in a family can affect an individual within that family's attitude towards suicide. There is virtually no research on this somewhat for obvious reasons, in that it is difficult to ascertain attitudes particularly in people who have died by suicide themselves. But one can speculate that this could have an effect on an individual but it might work in one of two possible ways.
Q. What are those two ways?
A. Well, the first might be that if a person is in a situation in which they are faced by apparently insurmountable problems and are feeling hopeless and suicidal, having had a family member commit suicide might possibly make them somewhat more comfortable with
the idea of suicide. On the other hand, such a person is likely to have intimate knowledge of the terrible impact that suicide very often and usually has on families, which may indeed actually serve to decrease the likelihood of suicide in that individual.

There is the somewhat odd situation then that an open verdict was returned at the same time as the coroner stated 'the balance of her mind was disturbed'.  It seems to me likely that the coroner just couldn't be sure "beyond reasonable doubt" that there was an intention to commit suicide.  This is in marked contrast to Hutton's certainty about Dr Kelly's death.

It was three years later that Dr Kelly married Janice ... my assumption is that his mother's death occurred some time prior to him meeting his wife to be.

1 comment:

  1. The cause of death of Mrs Kelly senior in 1964 is stated as bronchopneumonia,
    "that is a chest infection due to barbiturate poison".

    This is nonsense; death from bronchopneumonia does NOT necessarily mean the patient has overdosed on barbiturate.

    The medical definition of bronchopneumonia is as follows:

    Bronchopneumonia is an acute inflammation of the lungs and bronchioles, characterized by chills, fever, high pulse and respiratory rates, bronchial breathing, cough with purulent bloody sputum, severe chest pain, and abdominal distension. The disease is usually a result of the spread of infection from the upper to the lower respiratory tract, most common caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Staphylococcus pyogenes, or Streptococcus pneumoniae.

    There was far too much manipulation of facts in this case and our friend Dr Hawtin seems to be one of the worst culprits.