Why I'm certain my friend Dr Kelly was murdered
By ANDREW MALONE
Last updated at 2:57 AM on 10th July 2010
They used to walk the streets of Baghdad together after dark.
She liked to clear her head after the tensions of the day; he wanted to compensate for the missed strolls he normally took in the Oxfordshire countryside near his home.
But these nightly outings for David Kelly, the ill-fated weapons expert, and Mai Pederson, his beautiful young U.S. military interpreter, also provided an intriguing insight into how perilous the British scientist's position had become.
A senior member of a United Nations inspection team in Iraq, Kelly's mission was to discover whether Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction - and to determine whether America and Britain would go to war.
The stakes could not have been higher.
To help him deal with obfuscating Iraqi officials, he was assigned Pederson, a gifted linguist with the U.S. Air Force who also had secret, high-level links to American intelligence
Beguiled by his mysterious younger colleague, Kelly asked if he could walk with Pederson at night.
And so an unlikely relationship blossomed on the dark streets of Baghdad.
That friendship deepened when, one night in 1998, five years before the U.S. and Britain invaded, the pair shared a life-or-death experience on a stroll around the Iraqi capital.
Suddenly, a red laser dot appeared on the British scientist's clothes over his heart: an unseen sniper had him in his sights.
The laser beam moved slowly upwards until it was trained on the centre of Kelly's forehead.
Amid unbearable tension, the red dot remained t here for what seemed like an age.
The sniper didn't pull the trigger - it was simply a warning. Iraqi officials brushed off the incident, sniggering that it was just 'kids playing around'.
But Kelly knew his life was in grave danger, informing his younger companion that he had been told by intelligence sources that he was number three on a Saddam Hussein death list as a result of his work.
Shrugging off the risks, he told Pederson he couldn't abandon his mission, but that he expected to be found dead in the woods near his home in Oxfordshire, rather than in Iraq.
It was a claim he repeated to other close friends. It turned out to be a chillingly accurate prediction.
Memories of those tense, heady days and nights came flooding back for Mai Pederson this week as the seventh anniversary of the death of David Kelly, her close friend and confidante, approaches on July 17.
It is a tragedy which continues to be cloaked in controversy.
'We started out as work colleagues and he became like an older brother to me,' she told me when we met this week in America.
'He was a man of impeccable integrity, honour, dignity and respect. His family meant everything to him, as did his work.
'It is time the facts came out.'
Pederson hasn't met with Kelly's wife since his death, but Mrs Kelly did testify to the Hutton inquiry that Pederson was 'influential' in his life and had become a family friend.
Kelly, as is now well-known, was found dead in the woods near his home in July 2003, having supposedly used a blunt knife he'd had since he was a boy to hack into a tiny, deep vein and bleed to death - even though little blood was found at the scene.
Despite leaving no note for his wife or his beloved daughter, who was due to get married three months later, the government's Hutton Inquiry into his death concluded in 2004 that Kelly committed suicide after being named as the source of a BBC report suggesting that Tony Blair's spokesman 'sexed up' intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in order to justify going to war against Iraq.
After repeated calls for a full inquest into Kelly's death, the Labour government instead decided that official papers about the affair should be kept secret for an unprecedented 70 years - and, even more bizarrely, the reason for that decision is itself a state secret.
But now, amid signals that the new British coalition government may re-examine this utterly perplexing case, Kelly's former translator - and spiritual soul-mate - has come forward to give the saga a dramatic, compelling new twist.
In damning evidence to the new attorney general, Dominic Grieve, who has indicated his 'concerns' about the case, Pederson revealed that Kelly could not have killed himself by hacking into his wrist - because he could only move his arm with difficulty due to an old injury.
'He couldn't even cut a steak,' says Pederson, holding her own arm out stiffly to mimic his disability.
'He hurt his elbow and was incredibly weak in that arm.'
She also rubbished claims he had taken 29 Co-Proxamol painkiller pills before cutting his wrists, saying he struggled to swallow pills. For Kelly suffered from 'unexplained dysphagia' - a syndrome that can make it almost impossible to swallow pills, while food and other substances are ingested without a problem. This has been confirmed by other friends.
Pederson recalls offering him a pill for a headache which he refused, saying he couldn't swallow any pills and explaining he'd had the problem for years.
Speaking exclusively to the Mail, the twice-divorced Pederson - who is fluent in five languages - insisted that she was determined to honour the memory of a 'kind, brilliant man' by unearthing the truth about who really killed him, saying: 'This cries out for a formal, independent and complete review.
'If that means stirring the ashes, so be it.
'The death of David Kelly is not just about him or about the tragedy for his family - it affects all of us. The facts don't add up and the responses from the British government don't add up.'
More than anyone else - even, perhaps, including Janice, Dr Kelly's widow - Pederson knows the truth about Kelly's frame of mind at the time of his death, and, intriguingly, how he had even made plans for the future once the fuss over the BBC story had died down.
From the time in the late Nineties that they became acquainted, they made an unlikely pair. He, introverted and studious; she, Kuwaiti-born to Egyptian parents and vivacious. According to an ex-husband, she was actually an American spy with eyes that could 'bewitch' any man.
After meeting in Iraq in 1998, right up to the day of Kelly's death, the pair spent as much of their time together as possible. When they were apart, they regularly kept in touch by phone and email.
Other staff on the UN weapons inspections team in Baghdad assumed the bearded, scruffy English scientist was as dull as he looked.
But after he started accompanying Pederson on her walks, she discovered a different side to Kelly.
While she listened in silence,she says, he chatted away animatedly about his wife and children and how he loved taking daily walks in the woods near his home. She found it distracting and relaxing.
Indeed, the pair became as close as it's possible to be without sharing a bed.
In the following years, Kelly made frequent trips to America to see her(he was often in the U.S. on UN business and for meetings with other top scientists).
He was also reputedly thinking about moving there permanently.
Between dozen of trips to Iraq on inspection tours, as Britain and America sought a legal case for war against Saddam, the pair met regularly at locations around the U.S from California to Alabama.
In a sign of just how deep their friendship went, Kelly was even officially registered as living at three houses Pederson owned in America.
This was,apparently,simply a favour to enable him to have US. credit cards with an American mailing address. A devout agnostic, Kelly decided to convert without informing his wife to the Baha'i faith, the ancient Persian religion of which Pederson was a follower.
He gave up alcohol and started attending Baha'i meetings.
Not surprisingly, colleagues whispered that the pair were having an affair.
Could it have been true? 'I did not have an affair with Dr Kelly,'Pederson says firmly.' His family meant everything to him. I'd met his wife and daughters.
'His work was his mistress.'
Now 49,with piercing brown eyes, Pederson says the British academic - who was 20 years older - was not her type and it would, in any case, have been a court martial offence under U.S. military regulations to have an affair with a married man.
Yet her decision to submit this new dossier of evidence to the British government has reignited the politically charged debate about whether Kelly was murdered.
Already she has been attacked by John Rentoul, official biographer of the former prime minister (and, ironically, a columnist for The Independent, which denounced the Hutton Inquiry), has branded publication of her claims as' contemptible'.
BBC journalist Tom Mangold, meanwhile, denounced Pederson as a conspiracy theorist who must'believe in the tooth fairy' and demanded to know why she had taken so long to speak out.
Yet Pederson has tried to give evidence repeatedly.
In fact, less than a month after Kelly's death, she agreed to meet two British detectives who flew out from London to question her.
She spent two days telling them all she knew about the case and explaining why she believed the scientist could not possibly have committed suicide.
Yet, like many others in this saga of contradictory evidence and unanswered questions, her attempts to shed light on Kelly's physical as well as mental condition have been repeatedly rebuffed.
Indeed, two days after British police interviewed her and promised she would not be named on account of her sensitive work with the military her name was leaked to the then Labour supporting Times newspaper and she was portrayed as a shadowy Mata Hari figure.
While his family say Kelly was depressed, Pederson says he was nothing of the kind.
He had even phoned her at the height of the drama surrounding the row about the leaks to the BBC about the 'sexed-up' Iraq weapons dossier, cheerfully saying he was driving to a place in the West Country to escape the Press and that he would come out to see her in a couple of months.
Alarmed by the media attention after her identity was disclosed, Pederson moved in to Air Force accommodation to live in seclusion.
There, she privately offered to give evidence to the Hutton Inquiry on condition that her identity was disguised as it had been for British intelligence agents called to give evidence.Hutton refused
. More recently, frustrated by the lack of action over her evidence, her Washington lawyer Mark Zaid sent a letter last year to Baroness Scotland, the then Labour Attorney General.
Receipt of the letter was acknowledged in a single line reply from her office.
Now,however, Pederson hopes someone will finally listen.
And yesterday she received a much more sympathetic response from the office of new Attorney General Dominic Grieve, advising her to speak to the group of doctors currently launching their own legal challenge to make all documents relating to his death public.
She does not, she insists, have a 'smoking gun' evidence of who killed Kelly or why.
But she's convinced he was murdered.
'None of it makes sense anyone can see that,' she says.
The suggestion that Kelly could have been murdered by British government agents seems preposterous.
But did the Establishment have evidence that a 'hit' was planned against Kelly by Iraq and fail to act?
There have been repeated rumours that police were aware he had gone missing long before his family reported him overdue from his walk.
Or could Iraqi exiles have silenced him because his claims (about there being insufficient evidence of weapons build up to justify an invasion of their country) were at odds with their desire to see Saddam deposed?
In truth, Mai Pederson doesn't know the answers. But what she does know is that the official story has gaping holes.
She says:'The more time that passes with the Government ignoring the contradictory evidence, the more conspiracy theories will grow and faith and trust in the Government will lessen.
Legitimate questions deserve answers.
'The British Government owes him, his family and the country the full truth,whatever that might be.
Dr Kelly can no longer speak, so we must do so for him.'
There is, of course, a way for the new government to try to put an end to the controversy by seeking answers to the unanswered questions.
If there really is nothing to hide about the baffling death of Dr David Kelly, why, then, does so much remain hidden?