Accidental Death of a Scientist

This was a short piece I wrote for a BBC competition in 2004 – I think it was for Hustle, but it was a little too political for the show and the Corporation at the time to be honest (regardless of any merit or lack thereof!)


Focuses the mind, death. I knew it was over for me when I heard he’d died. Didn’t quite foresee all the fallout of course, but I knew it was going to be unpleasant.

Of course I’d tried to limit the damage before that. I’d said to William: ‘Will he weather the storm?’ He was the man’s boss after all. Well, we all know the answer to that one now.

I thought we should have protected him more. This business is all about face and I didn’t see how we could keep face if we hung him out to dry.

As I said to William: ‘Ecce homo! This is the man! One of the five or six people in Christendom who understands what the bloody Iraqis are doing. Expose him and the public’s confidence will be blown to hell’

Didn’t think he’d die though.


Christendom was a mistake. Terribly unfashionable. Left a bad smell. Not at one with the PM’s values apparently, despite his bloody crypto Catholic views. Acknowledging 2000 years of history is a sin apparently.

Anyway, the poor sod’s dead and I know he wasn’t one of us, but does the public understand the difference? No. One spook’s the same as another to them.  The fact that he was only a bloody technician means nothing to them.


I should have been firmer. I knew we had no real evidence. Nothing that would stand up in a court of law, but then, what intelligence would?  It’s not that sort of game is it? Hand on heart how often is what we say unequivocal? Wouldn’t call it the bloody Assessments Staff if it were would we? We’d call it Truth Staff, or something equally Orwellian. This was worse though, all froth and no substance.

Never thought I’d have to justify this sort of stuff to anyone.  That was always part of the deal. We’ll give you our assessment, warts and all; you don’t expose us to the public gaze. I mean what do they know? What can they know?

We put up a bloody good case, considering. Gave them what they asked for. They didn’t ask the objective questions of course. They never do, but we answered what we were asked, and by good Christ almighty they got the answers they wanted.

Of course, they didn’t ask for all the intelligence on the existence of WMD, but where would that have got them?  Nowhere! As I said, intelligence is an imperfect science; one simply does not get clear answers with open questions.  Asking the question the right way lets the politicos get the answer they need for public consumption. So HMG in its infinite wisdom didn’t ask the DG ‘What have you got on the existence of WMD?’ No. No open questions. This isn’t bloody therapy for  Christ’s sake. That would have led to confusion. No. They asked ‘Give me everything you’ve got that confirms they’ve got WMD.’ Different bloody question. Different bloody answer.


Poor old 6 and the West Country running round like bloody loons of course. No way they’ve got a full brief for the politicos on that one. Tons of stuff the other way, but they weren’t asked for that. Some little oik turns up with a note from his mother saying: ‘however other evidence suggests…’ and he’s off to freight and mails or wherever it is that doubles for Siberia these days. So you dig where you’re told and not one inch left or right.


So when the old judge asks ‘Was the report manipulated by No10?’ we all stand up and say ‘Absolutely not sir’ with our woggles standing stiff and true without a word of a lie.


I lied my bloody arse off for the Crown over this one. Had to really, question of loyalty; pencilled in for a knighthood already. More than pencilled in actually, indelible ink, so to speak. Owed it to them to keep my face straight and nod and bleat when asked. I’ll get the K of course. Least they could bloody do under the circumstances; might get something a bit better than that actually. And of course, having proved how sound I am, there’s every chance of a few directorships, but I say!


Poor bugger’s dead after all and someone should say sorry. The politicians have all sloped shoulders of course. Bloody typical, I’d expect nothing less of any of ‘em, left or right.

But I looked at the judge and wondered what we were doing. Something stuck in my throat just a little bit at that point.

I mean, I know we pull the wool over the public’s eyes, good God one has to in order to have any chance of running the place, but did we have to sacrifice a poor old sod like that?

I did. I turned the No10 intelligence requirement into a set of tasks and my people came back like good little goats and bleated back the 10 per cent that backed the implied answer. And I paraded it up to the JIC.

There was no need to massage the answer, for God’s sake; do the press have any idea what goes on? You don’t need special advisors and press manipulators and policy wonks burning the midnight oil when the report hits the desk.

The massage was in the question. Just like it always is.

Thank God they got rid of the people bright enough to spot that one eh? And the poor old sod was left out to dry. To die.

I’ve decided to take early retirement.

Oh it was inevitable really. The day he was reported dead I knew. Everyone associated would be moved sideways eventually. Oh, one may escape it for a while but I was right in there, I provided HMG with its alibi.

I’ll be okay, they have to look after me after all, or arrange for the traditional accident in a Norfolk ditch.

Here’s to the K and no sleepless nights!