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The appointment of Norman Baker to the role of Home Office minister has received avid press attention, since Mr Baker authored The Strange Death of David Kelly. The 2007 book asserted weapons expert Dr David Kelly had not committed suicide, but was murdered by an Iraqi hit squad; their actions hidden by British spies. Both the Daily Mail’s Stephen Glover and a Guardian editorial suggest Mr Baker should not be denounced as a conspiracy theorist, so it is worth examining what Baker wrote.
David Aaronovitch points out in his book Voodoo Histories that conspiracy theories usually rely upon a “magic bullet”, an impossible fact which shatters the ‘official’ version of events, leaving behind more sinister possibilities in its remnants. In the JFK assassination, the impossible facts were the time taken to fire three shots and the second shot’s trajectory – the “magic bullet”. The time between the first and third shots was actually 7.1 seconds, rather than 5.6 seconds, and forensic analysis of Oswald’s shots showed they were quite probable.
Dr Kelly worked for the Ministry of Defence. An unauthorised discussion with BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan on Iraq intelligence dossiers led to Kelly being thrust into public view. Two days after potentially misleading a parliamentary committee, Dr Kelly’s body was found in woodland near his home. Pathologists attributed his death to a severed left ulnar artery, atherosclerosis and co-proxamol tablets.
Norman Baker’s method is to assert, speculate and insinuate to the reader until probabilities are inverted: likely events seem inconceivable and very unlikely events become inexorable. Mr Baker fires the magic bullet: it is “clinically impossible for Dr Kelly to have died at his own hand in the manner described”. Baker provides five reasons to believe this statement: Dr Kelly’s mental state, Janice Kelly’s health, his Bahá’í faith, no suicide note and the method itself.
Mr Baker stridently asserts:
People about to kill themselves do not generally first book an airline ticket for a flight they have no intention of taking.
Pop psychology rattles around this claim, vacuous without evidence, as suicidal people supposedly avoid future planning. Similar efforts are made with Janice Kelly’s health: “It is hardly likely…he would want to exacerbate matters in the worst possible way for his wife”. The relationship between Dr Kelly and his wife was private; Mr Baker pontificates through false omniscience.
Mr Baker says Kelly’s Bahá’í faith “strongly outlaws suicide”. It would be a wonderful world if religious adherents strictly obeyed moral commandments. David Aaronovitch notes Norman Baker neglects the faith says a suicide “will be immersed in the ocean of pardon”. Mr Baker states suicide notes are “very common”, but the 2005 book Psychiatry, authored by Gelder et al, estimates only one in six suicides leave notes. After Mr Baker makes many insinuations about Dr Kelly not being the suicidal ‘type’, he quickly brushes off that Kelly’s own mother having committed suicide. Mr Baker states: “It is extremely difficult to kill yourself by cutting your wrists.” This wasn’t the suicide method, because it ignores the co-proxamol tablets, withdrawn in 2007 for causing 300-400 fatal overdoses each year.
From the ruins of this “impossible” suicide, Mr Baker then relies on an unspecified number of unnamed persons “well connected to the CIA” to construct his theory that Dr Kelly was murdered by an unnoticed injection of “succinylcholine or something similar” from two “not very well-paid hired hands”. This is both a theory deprived of evidence and the plot of Tom Clancy’s The Teeth of the Tiger.
It is undoubtedly true Norman Baker believes in a conspiracy theory surrounding Dr Kelly’s death. Both Mr Glover and the Guardian disparage those who “rush” to call Mr Baker a conspiracy theorist as either “Establishment-minded” or in the “dwindling ranks of the Tony Blair fan club”. Both reject Baker’s conclusions, but insult those who give the conclusions their proper title.
People tend to distinguish conspiracy theorists in a similar way they distinguish illegal drug-takers: separating heavy users from recreational dabblers. Norman Baker believed his computer was remotely wiped, said Robin Cook’s death was “suspicious” and asked parliamentary questions on UFOs. Whilst it is easy, even necessary, to laugh about his appointment, this is a disturbing move from Nick Clegg.