Retiring police chief takes legal action against dad of man found dead in cement mixer in Upminster
09:00 12 January 2014
A grieving father seeking the truth about his son’s death is being threatened with legal action by the outgoing police chief of the force responsible for an investigation.
Chief constable of Kent Police, Ian Learmonth, says he was “seriously libelled” in a newspaper article last month by Les Balkwell, whose son died in a cement mixer in Upminster more than 11 years ago.
Lawyers for Mr Learmonth are also considering public order and harassment proceedings against Les, claiming he has been persistently “abusive, insulting and malicious” towards the officer.
It comes at the same time as Les is suing the head of a different police force for failings in an earlier investigation into the death.
Les’s son, Lee, 33, was found trapped between the drum and chassis of the mixer at Baldwins Farm, Dennises Lane, in July 2002.
Essex Police said the death was a tragic industrial accident and closed the case after 19 days.
A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), released in January 2012, found the original probe was “seriously flawed”, for which Essex Police chief constable Jim Barker-McCardle apologised.
Solicitors for Les, from Hornchurch, submitted a detailed damages claim to Leeds High Court a year ago against Mr Barker-McCardle, claiming his force breached the Human Rights Act by failing to carry out “an effective investigation into Lee Balkwell’s death”.
The IPCC has twice suggested an outside force independently reinvestigate Lee’s death. It is currently being undertaken by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.
But, in another twist to the 11-and-a-half-year saga, retiring Kent Police chief Mr Learmonth last week threatened defamation proceedings against Les after the newspaper article linked the officer to the original Essex probe.
Mr Learmonth had been a chief superintendent in the Essex force at the time of Lee’s death and was later temporary assistant chief constable for crime.
Les formally complained to Anne Barnes, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, in June about Mr Learmouth’s involvement in the current investigation.