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SOUTHMOOR, England (AP) -- A body found in the Oxfordshire woods added a dark twist Friday to questions about the intelligence Prime Minister Tony Blair used to justify war in Iraq.
Police tentatively identified the dead man as David Kelly, a Defense Ministry expert suspected of being the source of media claims that the government hyped its reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Blair, speaking in Tokyo on Saturday as he began a tour of Asian nations, called Kelly's apparent death an "absolutely terrible tragedy."
"I hope that we can set aside the speculation and the claims and the counterclaims and allow that due process to take its proper course," he said. "This is an absolutely terrible tragedy. I'm profoundly sad for David Kelly and his family."
Called before Parliament for an inquiry this week, Kelly, a former U.N. weapons inspector between 1991 and 1998, denied being the source of the media claims.
Kelly's wife reportedly said he was stressed and "very, very angry" about being caught up in a public controversy. Comments by politicians and friends of Kelly on TV news broadcasts suggested the pressure of the case and the inquiry might have led to his death. No one has suggested foul play.
Police refused to speculate on the cause of death. Inspector Peter Shepherd of the Thames Valley Police said only, "We are still looking into the circumstances."
Janice Kelly reported her husband missing Thursday night when he failed to return from an afternoon walk. The body was found Friday morning on the edge of a clump of woods within a mile of Kelly's home in the village of Southmoor, 20 miles southwest of Oxford.
Blair learned of the news on his flight from Washington to Tokyo. His office said there would be an independent inquiry if the dead man is positively identified as Kelly.
Blair described Kelly as "a fine, public servant who did an immense amount of good for his country in the past, and I'm sure would have done so again in the future."
Opposition Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith urged Blair to return to London. "There are very many questions that will need to be asked over the coming days," Duncan Smith said.
Kelly's apparent death was a sensational development in a scandal threatening the government's credibility.
The big issue is whether the prime minister misled the country about Iraq's weapons. The drama also includes a highly personal feud between Blair's communications chief and a journalist from one of the world's most prestigious news organizations.
The furor started with a May 29 report by the British Broadcasting Corp. that an unidentified intelligence source had said a government file on Iraq was "sexed up" to make a more convincing case for military action.
Quoting an unidentified intelligence source, BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan said the government had ignored experts' doubts in claiming Iraq could deploy some chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.
Gilligan later said his source had accused Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell, of insisting the claim be included.
Campbell denied that in testimony to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. Kelly told the committee that he had met Gilligan, but did not think he was the source of the BBC report.
Asked if he believed Campbell had interfered in drafting the dossier, Kelly responded: "I do not believe that at all."
Kelly, a soft-spoken, gray-haired scientist with a white beard and eyeglasses, was grilled in a nationally televised committee session during which he was pressed to give the names of other journalists he had met.
Andrew Mackinlay, a legislator from Blair's Labor Party, asked Kelly if he was "chaff," thrown up by the Defense Ministry to divert attention.
"Have you ever felt like the fall guy? You have been set up, haven't you?"
Kelly replied, "I accept the process that is happening."
The BBC refused to bow to government pressure to reveal its source. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon -- Kelly's boss -- said the weapons adviser had come forward to say he had had an unauthorized meeting with the BBC reporter and had not mentioned Campbell.
The BBC has not denied that, but did say that its source did not work for the Ministry of Defense.
Kelly, 59, was reported missing late Thursday, some eight hours after he failed to come home.
"What we can say is that the description of the man found there matches the description of Dr. David Kelly," said acting Superintendent Dave Purnell of Thames Valley police.
An Oxford-educated microbiologist, Kelly has been the senior adviser to the Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat in the Ministry of Defense for more than three years.
He was in Baghdad briefly in June where he met with troops involved in the weapons hunt. And he was scheduled to return to Baghdad and take up a post with the Iraq Survey Group, a Pentagon-led effort taking over the search for suspected weapons of mass destruction.
According to friends who spoke on condition of anonymity, Kelly feared the recent allegations would hurt his position with the survey group.
Television journalist Tom Mangold said Kelly had been a source for many reporters, because he was eager to help them understand a complex topic.
Mangold also said he spoke Friday with Janice Kelly, who said her husband had been upset.
"She didn't use the word depressed, but she said he was very, very stressed and unhappy about what had happened," Mangold said.
Several police stood guard Friday afternoon outside Kelly's neat brick and brownstone home, which sits across the street from an old-fashioned country pub and next to an open field.
"He was just a perfectly straightforward family man, just Mr. Kelly in the village -- that's how everyone knew him," said Ann Lewis, a neighbor for 20 years.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)