At the start of the week the Daily Mail ran a headline saying only 20% of people thought David Kelly committed suicide. The Mail claimed it was an overwhelming rejection of the official verdict – it wasn’t actually quite as overwhelming as it seems, by only mentioning the 20% the Mail implied that a large percentage of people thought he didn’t commit suicide, in fact a large majority of people told Harris they didn’t know whether David Kelly committed suicide or not, the proportion of people who disagreed with the statement that he committed suicide was only around 22% (the tables aren’t on the Harris website anymore, so I’m taking the figure from memory – apologies if it’s a point or two out). The Mail could equally have headlined the poll report “1 in 5 disagree that David Kelly committed suicide”. Though actually, that itself would still have been quite a striking finding.

The way Harris asked the question on David Kelly was perfectly valid, but considering alternatives I thought their way was quite likely to show a high score for people rejecting the suicide explanation – it is likely to be easier for a respondent to say they disagree that Kelly committed suicide than to actually say he was murdered as part of some conspiracy. The proportion of people who thought David Kelly was murdered would surely be lower than 22% if asked outright? So we asked.

We ran a question on the YouGov daily polling and reasking the question YouGov first asked back in 2003 during the Hutton inquiry. Now, I don’t think the wording YouGov used is perfect either. For starters, if I was writing it from scratch, I’d have given people the option of saying other or none of these. However, since YouGov had asked the question back in 2003 I wanted to use the same wording to draw direct changes.

Back in 2003 11% of people thought that David Kelly was murdered, 75% that he committed suicide (most thinking he had done so due to the pressure placed upon him) – given it was at the height of the controversey, only 14% said don’t know. Looking at the same question now 30% of people think David Kelly was murdered, 32% think he committed suicide and 38% don’t know – meaning in the 7 years since his death the proportion of people thinking he was murdered has almost tripled. The Daily Mail’s headline was rather sensationalist, but the underlying fact is that a large minority of people do indeed think Kelly was murdered.

Not of course, lest I be misunderstood, that this makes it any more likely that he was.

806 Responses to “30% think Dr David Kelly was murdered”

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  1. A pre-emptive note of the comments policy. Things about David Kelly tend to bring out comments from those with, um, strong feelings about Tony Blair, so please remember the comments policy. Anti-Blair rants are not non-partisan.


    Any chance of a review of polling during the Australian election campaign, now coming to an end, as I gather from this morning’s report on BBCNews 24 that it’s all been ratrher close and very interesting.

  3. If it were to be found that Dr. Kelly was murdered (unlikely), which party would be affected by the public backlash?- 2003 was a long time ago, in the minds of the electorate, Blair is long since out of office and Brown is becoming a fading memory, so would it affect the current government, or would people make the association with the previous administration? Likewise if any enquiry were to find that pressure form the government was directly responsible for the sad circumstances of Dr. Kelly’s death.

  4. Well nobody ever asked me about the death of Dr Kelly, so its 30% plus me. Stinks to high heaven and I have no idea why its been this long to arrive at a proper investigation. It wouldn’t be a change of government would it?

  5. 30% Plus me… A man of that intelligence would know better than to do himslef in with a blunt gardening tool. I can smell the pong of this one from accross the Irish sea.

  6. Is there any information about who the public (the 30% anyway) think murdered him? Was it the intelligence services? a direct order from TB? etc

  7. Sorry to totally lower the tone of the debate, but I have never been any where near convinced that Princess Diana was not helped on her way. I do NOT blame the Windsor family, but these coincidences just do not sit right with me. Both people were a bloody nuisance and they died with the utmost convenience.

  8. Roland,

    We’ve had ‘dodgy’ deaths over here for years (as you know). Are these skills transferable? Stalker would have thought so, so do I.

  9. If we in fact did live in the kind of world where Prime Ministers or security services order the killings of scientists and a princess, wouldn’t we also live in the type of world in which weapons of mass destruction would be ‘found’ in Iraq?

    Aren’t there more ‘awkward’ types who it would be far more useful to have disappeared than either of these two?

  10. I don’t buy into conspiracy theories. People would need to be super efficient, artful, extremely good at keeping secrets and very very competent.
    In my experience most people are lazy, incompetent and talk too much.
    There was a conspiracy theory about the bombing of the Chinese embassy during the bombardment of Belgrade. We were told the mistake was made because NATO was using old maps of the city.
    No way, people said. The US and NATO secret services couldn’t be that incompetent, could they?
    Unfortunately , the sad truth is that they probably were.

  11. David – haven’t had the time to look at it properly, much though I’d like to (not least because I’m interested how they normally poll, and how they make projections based on that, in a country with AV!)

    Given we are almost there, I’m unlikely to have time before the polls close :(

    Roland/Eoin – no, Roland is already represented within the 30%. There were presumably other older, ex-military Tories in the sample who represented him. You can add Eoin though, since most polls don’t cover Northern Ireland!

  12. @EOIN
    Just as there was no shortage of ex bomber pilots & anti submarine warfare specialists in 1946, there are no shortage of professional assassins and saboteurs
    after “the troubles”. I say after, they seem to be returning.

    I am sorry, I dont see the connection between WMDs
    and unfortunate accidents and suicides.

  13. Julian,

    Have you any idea how easy it is to kill someone and dispose of them? Most bars in Belfast have a half dozen people in them with the disposition and skills to do so.

    Never put it down to incompetence i can assure you. In the course of my research (and growing up I suppose) I have encountered hundreds of people with a track record in this line of work. That goes for uniformed personnel also.

  14. One issue is that people will have answered this poll after the reporting about the previous Daily Mail poll, and that will have shifted opinion somewhat.

  15. @EOIN
    The trouble with you is you get me reminiscing.
    I finished my time in NI as OC of an Airborne Sqn of Royal Engineers. During that period alone we dealt with some wee beauties, so we did. On both sides of the divide. Without being partisan, Mr Blair having the hand of God upon his shoulder did not put these people where they belonged. They still walk free and walked free when the dead Dr and Princess perished.

  16. Roland,

    The question is, who would want him dead? I think we need to look inside intel services for your answer. Those guys sleep like babies, aided quite likely by that smug, warm and satisfying feeling that everything they do is untouchable. I am sure you know exactly what i mean Mr Haines :) Iraqi tax drivers might provide the clue. Not that one persons death is going to trouble anyone enough to follow this up. I am sure whoever did it, knew that at the time.

  17. It always amazes me the way people will claim the David Kelly or Princess Diana was murdered desite having abolsutely no evidence on which to base this beleif.

    I suppose they are the same people who believe in astrology and “just know” that crime is on the rise despite all evidence to the contrary.

    We should really start teaching epistemology in schools.

  18. Can someone refresh my memory about when Ddavid Kelly committed suicide, please?

  19. Jakob,

    There is a report due out soon by the historical murders enquiry team in NI. Most of the work was subcontracted to english plice forces, so it is likely to be fairly impartial. in that report you will find the details of several UK intelligence units engaging in the type of activities, which may or may not have ended Dr Kelly’s life. It shows that the intel. services have both the capability and track record of engaging in this kind of work.

  20. I heard an early morning broadcast from the scene which mentioned a bullet in the back of the head. It was never mentioned again even on the same programme.
    The only thing we don’t know is who did it. Would any Iraqis have a motive, for instance?

  21. This poll does tend to follow the trend for other conspiracy theories – there were several in the US over the assassination of President Kennedy which showed that the number of people willing to believe ‘the official version’ started reasonably high but declined over time.

    It would be interesting though to assess how many people are under the misapprehension that Dr Kelly was an opponent of the war, rather than the open enthusiast for régime change which he actually was.

  22. Perhaps YouGov should ask respondents what evidence they would actually be willing to accept as proof that Dr Kelly wasn’t murdered.

  23. David Boothroyd,

    Good example. the dogs on the street don’t believe that JFK was shot with a WWI Italian made rifle. Hell that is almost as blunt as the gardening tool D Kelly used.

  24. Yet of that 30% not one is a member of his close family. I would have thought that they would have been at the forefront of any campaign to out the ‘truth’.

  25. @EOIN
    Be careful about the Mannlicker-Carcano Rifle. It may have been a 1891 model but was probably much younger. It was also likely to have been a very nice piece and if “zeroed” correctly accurate to 800 yds in the hands of a marksman.

  26. Roland,

    the weapon was tested afterwards. Its tragectory was out by three metres. The reload is so slow on it, to discharge 3 bullets in 6.42 seconds would have been quite a feat. The velocity would not have impacted in the way the footage shows and bullets with a verifiable signature would survive.

    apoligies but I liked JFK :)

  27. Well that explains why the Harris site was looking so tired. They’ve had a wizzo new design waiting to go up and now you can’t find anything at all (unless it’s US). They’ve completely lost the last two polls in the process.

    It’s interesting to see that the Rolands of this world (Conservative, male, over 60) are those most likely to believe Kelly was murdered. Though whether this is special forces experience or an unwillingness to say “Don’t Know” to anything I er don’t know. ;)

    Of course one of the reasons that the topic is coming back into focus now is the new, non-New labour, government and in particular that Norman Baker, the Lib Dem MP who wrote a book on the topic, is now a member of it.

    I remember watching a Conspiracy Files programme on the subject (which Norman Baker contributed to). These are meant to be debunking of common conspiracy myths such as the “murder” of Princess Di. However in this case I started out believing the official verdict of suicide and, after watching, ended up thinking that there was more to the story than met the eye. Transcript is here:

    ht tp://

    Can’t find that particular programme on the BBC website, but is on Google videos:

    ht tp://

    Interestingly I remember hearing the producer saying that he too had started out sceptical, but ended up thinking more investigation was needed.

    The Hutton inquiry, which was pretty much discredited by most when it came out, effectively replaced a proper inquest on Kelly. That is certainly now needed to clear the air.

  28. Teresa May has banned the EDL from marching- good for her.

    Just the kind of smack of firm government that appeals to alleged ‘authoritarian lefties’ like me: not sure what the liberals will make of it though….

    I have never said I was in special forces. If I was I would never say so on a board like this. It is a nice complement however, since David B thought I was in the Catering Corps. As for being a know all , that is grossly unjust. Ther are many subjects I leave well alone on this board, because others are far more expert and I would be the first to admit it. I think your real objection is my debunking of left wing cant.

  30. @EOIN
    Your knowledge of the Kennedy killing is much better than mine. But then the Kennedy’s were never my favorites.

  31. Anthony,

    Thanks to roger’s link i have taken a nosy at Harris’ methodology. Alright I admit there is not much to look at but they do cite one criteria for their weighting that I foudn interesting. I realise you have fielded this question before but it is interesting nonetheless….

    Harris claim to weight by ‘propensity to be online’. Heavan knows how they do it.. but can you confirm whether YG do and if not why not?

    Harris were a trillion miles out at the GE so if you think it a waste of time replying I would understand…

  32. i post this rather long snippet from Harris’ methodology for those who are interested. It is maverick to say the least.

    This Metro/Harris Poll was conducted online within Great Britain between April 21 to 19, 2010 among 1,971 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are
    misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.
    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

  33. That it takes an online polling company a week to cobble together asample of 500 and then not give us an MOE tells us everything we need to know. (just my personal opinion of course)

  34. Roland

    I was teasing you a bit, and I know, of course, that those who claim to be in the SAS etc, almost certainly weren’t, by that very claim.. However if you look at the YouGov figures, people in your demographic group (conservative voting, male, over-60) are more definite in their views about this topic than others.

    As I hinted, I suspect it is partly because people like you are firmer in your beliefs generally; but actually I was surprised that it went this way on the Kelly affair – it might be assumed “all stuff and nonsense” was the more expected reaction.

    As far as debunking left-wing cant goes, please don’t stop. There’s far too much cant of all types in the world for me. :)

  35. Eoin –

    Only Harris use “propensity weighting” – YouGov’s attitudinal weighting is party ID and newspaper readership. Essentially it is just weighting by attitudinal things drawn from parallel face-to-face surveys.

    Don’t mock them for that lack of margin of error, they are entirely correct it in. The 3% margin of error we normally quote for polls is indeed based on some theoretical perfectly random poll of 1000 with a 100% response rate, which never happens in real life. When ICM, Populus, YouGov, Ipsos MORI and so on quote margins of error, strictly speaking they are pretty spurious (you can actually factor in things like response rate, stratification of the sample, weighting factors and so on… but nobody ever does for media polls).

    The real picture is as Harris puts it – there is a margin of error of some sort, but it cannot be theoretically calculated. I still think it’s better to give the 3% or so figure, even though it’s precision cannot be justified, because it reminds people the margin of error is there, whether or not we can quantify it.

    It would be ridiculous for someone my age (64) to speak to a 48 year old as if they were a child. Sometimes on the site, I get the impression a certain poster is quite young (30s) and then they say “the look on Ted Heaths face when Thatcher beat him ha”. So obviously one has to be careful. However history has always been my favorite academic subject and history tells me the death of poor Dr Kelly was a bit to damned
    handy for some people.

  37. It’s another silly season poll, although on a very important topic. Ordinary people don’t have the information, but fiftu per cent of them will express an opinion anyway.

    The simple answer is that there needs to be a proper inquest by somebody in whom the public will have confidence. This last qualification is a diffiult one: how many coroner’s would shirk from deciding that a law Lord had sacrificed his reputation for a political purpose.

    So, the question should be to ask people whether there should be a further inquest into the death of David Kelly.

  38. @PETE B
    If an anti Sadam Iraqi thought Dr Kelly could throw a spanner in the works regarding an invasion and regime change which invoved Britain. There is no doubt they would be ready willing and able to murder him. What then would be the implications of informing the British people that David Kelly had been killed by such a person?

  39. Roland and Eoin
    Don’t forget to mention the grassy knoll.

    I would not have found the 30% very credible, but I do now.

    Your reference to finding WMD recalled the hilarious footage of weapon inspectors opeining a tube and sniffing for poisonous gas.

  40. Did he kill himself? Yes. Was it murder? No. Do the doctors who asked for an inquest believe he killed himself> No, they have all stated that they do not, they want an inquest because they feel there should be one to get to the real details of how he killed himself. I have never heard one GOOD reason to explain why he was killed, I can understand how someone might want him dead to cause Blair and the government trouble at the time but otherwise I can think of no GOOD reason for murder.

    @ROLAND HAINES – Diana was killed? I must get you as my lawyer next time I drink a bottle of vodka and go for a 60mph drive along a busy motorway, you can explain how MI5 did it.

  41. Soo depressing.

    It’s like climate change, or the number of americans that think Obama is a muslim… it creeps up every year thanks to the endless drum beat of the right-wing media machine.

  42. I was say this one pongs a bit!

    If someone wanted to do themselves in, they wouldn’t use a blunt gardening instrument..
    Mind you I suppose it might depend on what class they were:
    Lower class might use a blunt gardening tool!
    Middle class might whack themselves over the head with a bottle of Moet!
    Upper class might jump in front of the wifes Bentley Turbo!
    Who knows.. Lifes a box of chocolates!!

  43. I recommend you read an article in Monday’s Telegraph by Andrew Gilligan !

    ht tp://

  44. I don’t see why, just because 40% of Con voters think Kelly was murdered and 40% of 60 plussers think so, we can conclude that there is a preponderance of aged Tories who think so. The two figures could be mutually exclusive, could they not?

  45. @GARY M G
    I was told half an hour ago that people my age are rather sure of their facts. On that basis, congratulations on reaching 98.

    By the way I have driven on German autobahns in the dim distant past at a bloody sight more than 100 kliks
    and with the equivalent of 2 bottles of vodka in me.
    Not everyone is a lightweight.

  46. @LIAM
    We keep the drum beat going to ward of the BBC.

  47. Wayne
    Lifes a box of chocolates!!

    Waynes World meets Forrest Gump

  48. i too have extreme reservations about tje enquiry into the death of Dr Kelly and think that the evidence does not point to suicide. Therefore, I can think of little in the way of an alternative to murder as the true cause of death.

    But even more interesting would be to see how many currently think that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was really the Lockerbie bomber, then present them with the evidence and see if any at all are still convinced. Because that is another case where an enquiry is desperately needed to establish, as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board concluded, that there had been “a spectacular miscarriage of justice”. Then we could get after the real culprits.

  49. @You people out there who thought david Kelly was murdered.

    Who did it and what was their motive?

  50. @VALERIE
    I am “one of them” Valerie and I dont know the answer to your question. There is the bleedin obvious but God forfend any pygmy like me should think that. Then there is the Iraqi theory, but who knows, as I already said its all to convenient for some people that he chose to end his life.

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