Sunday, 29 July 2012

There was no suicide note

For a coroner (or coroner's jury) to return a verdict of suicide there has to be evidence of intent to commit suicide.  Sometimes there is really good evidence for this ... such as the deceased leaving a note of his or her intention.  Then there is visual evidence, for instance someone throwing themselves off the platform in front of a train.  Another indicator might be a history of previous attempts to commit suicide.

There are cases where it looks like suicide has occurred but the intent can't be demonstrated and then the coroner falls back on an "open verdict".  So far as Dr Kelly is concerned there has never been proof that he intended to commit suicide.  Considering that one point alone it can be seen that Mr Gardiner should have resumed the inquest following his hearing of 16 March. 

Although the Hutton Inquiry was fairly clear about the absence of a suicide note I see that the subject was raised as part of a Freedom of Information request with Thames Valley Police  In the Investigations Log it can be read under reference item RFI2011000383 and is question 3:

Was a suicide note from Dr Kelly found at Harrowdown Hill, at the Kelly family home, or at any other location?      No.

At the Inquiry suicide expert Professor Keith Hawton is quizzed by Mr Dingemans on the question of there being no suicide note:

Q. And for older people, what is the sort of evidence of planning that you can see? 
A. Well, evidence of planning would be, for example, saving up medication to carry out an act, deliberately going and obtaining a specific method for the act, obviously seeking out a place to carry out the act, where one is least likely to be disturbed, and things such as a person putting their affairs in order, changing their will and so on. 
Q. And do you always have to communicate your intention to commit suicide? Is there always a note left? 
A. Not at all, no. In recent studies from the United Kingdom, somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent of people who die leave a suicide note or a suicide message, it is not always a note.
Q. So the majority do not leave a note?
A. That is correct. 

Not for the first time we see Mr Dingemans leaning his questions towards a conclusion that Dr Kelly committed suicide.  The clear inference is that as the majority do not leave a note then there is nothing odd at all about Dr Kelly not doing so.  I've no reason to disbelieve Hawton's statistics but obviously one should probe a lot deeper.  There are people who just don't write at all, there are very sadly some folk who commit suicide who feel so lonely and isolated that they have nobody to whom they can write a note.  These are examples of groups where you would be surprised to find a note.  Contrast them with Dr Kelly.  He had for instance arranged to meet one of his daughters, Rachel, later that day.  Not only that, he had been looking forward to her wedding in less than three months time.  Would he really have killed himself without leaving some sort of message for her?  Applying Hawton's bald figures without qualification is totally misleading.  I've no doubt at all that Dingemans was well aware of that.

Dingemans has form in driving the suicide hypothesis.  In questioning Mrs Kelly the day before Hawton made his first visit to the Inquiry he tried to link her supply of co-proxamol with the tablets Dr Kelly had allegedly taken.  I included that subject in an earlier post 

Hutton was no doubt well pleased with his senior counsel carefully cultivating the ground so that a conclusion that Dr Kelly committed suicide could be readily reached.   


  1. One sees quoted elsewhere, and especially in the Wikipedia page, the book Psychiatry (OUP 3rd edition) by Gelder et al** who in turn quote a figure of 12-20 percent of suicides leaving notes, which was only published in 2005. I don't know which ethnic/social groups were studied (**Profs Michael Gelder, John Geddes and Richard Mayou are all Oxford psychiatrists) and which primary research the figure came from. I suspect Oxford based Hawton and Dingemans would have seized upon that with glee.

  2. Of course a significant number of "open verdicts" will in fact relate to people who have taken their own lives. It could be argued that as conventional letter writing goes more and more out of fashion then even fewer notes will be left, particularly by younger people who are now so used to using other forms of communication...and might never have written a letter of any sort.

    In the case of David Kelly it's worth remembering that less than three weeks before he died he had written a four page letter to Bryan Wells regarding his interaction with Andrew Gilligan This is strong evidence that he can gather his thoughts and put them on paper!