What happened to Lee Balkwell?
PUBLISHED: 17:56 30 September 2010 | UPDATED: 12:29 01 October 2010
A report into how Essex Police investigated the mysterious death of a Rainham man in a cement mixer has intimated that officers wrongly destroyed evidence; did not carry out a proper forensic examination of the scene; and failed to secure the crime area.
Lee Balkwell, 33, was crushed in the mechanisms of a cement mixer in an Upminster farm in the summer of 2002.
Essex Police treated the death as accidental, but Lee’s father, Les Balkwell, 63, of Abbs Cross Lane, Hornchurch, has always maintained his son was murdered.
West Midlands Police began an independent probe into the Essex investigation late last year at the behest of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) which itself had uncovered major flaws by Essex officers.
Eleven recommendations have now been released out of a total of 91, following a Freedom of Information (FoI) disclosure to the BBC last week, after Essex Police refused to publicise the report.
11 of the 91 recommendations
1. IT IS recommended that in all cases where a scene has been designated as a crime scene, statements are obtained from witnesses who are either at that scene, or attending the scene in a professional capacity, including police officers, at the earliest opportunity.
2. It is also recommended that where a scene is designated as a crime scene, that such scenes are properly secured and protected to ensure the integrity of those designated areas. For example, the cement mixer.
6. It is recommended that where it is unclear as to what has actually taken place resulting in the death of an individual, in what are unusual circumstances, that wherever possible, the designated Home Office pathologist should attend the scene to view the deceased in situ, prior to the recover and subsequent removal to the mortuary.
9. It is recommended that in all cases where vehicles or other items of property are contained within a designated crime scene that they are subject to appropriate forensic examination.
37. It is recommended that the investigating officer should retain all potential exhibits until the outcome of a Coroners inquest is known.
42. It is recommended as good practice that issues of continuity of exhibits is obtained at time of seizing, and transferring. This allows for accurate recording and alleviates time wasted in returning to the issue.
47. In addition, it is now more widely recognised that a more proactive, rather than a reactive media approach to these types of incidents is likely to have a more positive influence on public perception and consequently there may have been benefit in developing an appropriate strategy to reflect such an approach.
50. It is recommended as a corporate learning issue that training FLO and Coroners Officer roles should incorporate an understanding of each of the role functions. This will lead to closer contact and ensure this type of proceedings is executed with the minimum disruption tot he family concerned.
53. It is recommended that in similar circumstances an SIO ensure that the deceased family member’s are briefed in respect of the terminology used and the meaning as regards the investigative process to be carried out. This should form part of the policy making process and be recorded accordingly.
54. It is a matter of consideration from a corporate learning aspect, as to whether the terminology best adopted in this type of scenario, should be “unexpected death”. This may then assist to suppress unwarranted conjecture on the part of other participating agencies and could be adopted as a generic term to be supplied to agencies at a scene, thereby, allowing investigation from an objective standpoint. It is recommended that this aspect be explored at Essex Command Team level.
60. When quoting instances as in this case it is recommended that the statement or reference material being relied upon is quoted for reference purposes.
Les Balkwell said: “We suspect the other 80 recommendations must be even more damning if they’re refusing to let us see them - and we’re prepared to fight them all them way. I’ll not rest until I get justice for my boy.”
A spokesman for Essex Police said: “A partial disclosure of the West Midlands report has been made following a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Details have been sent to the applicant and also to Les Balkwell and his representatives. We have an ongoing investigation and therefore we do not wish to comment any further at this stage.”
Police records show the emergency services were called to Baldwin’s Farm, in Dennises Lane, at 1.03am on July 18 2002.
Lee, a new father, was found crushed between the outside of a cement mixer drum and its chassis, with his legs twisted on a pile of rubble on the ground.
A crime scene was declared an hour-and-a-half later.
Sometime before 3.40am, a paramedic wrote “?foul play” in his notebook.
At 4.43am, a police log declared Lee’s death was now officially deemed suspicious.
Lee’s body is removed between 2pm and 3pm that afternoon, despite the unusual circumstances of his death, which should have demanded an on-scene examination by a Home Office pathologist - as noted in Recommendation 6.
Instead, Lee’s body was taken to Basildon Hospital, Essex, where a post-mortem was carried out at between 10am and 11am the following morning.
At the same time, a police officer was ordered to destroy Lee’s clothes by the Senior Investigating Officer - a mistake highlighted by Recommendation 37 of the report.
The only remaining item, Lee’s belt, was returned to the family around a month later. The whereabouts of his work boots, which he was wearing when he was found, remain a mystery.
The crime scene was never fully secured, as considered in Recommendation 2, and the only apparent witness – the man who said he accidentally turned on the cement mixer, killing Lee - was not interviewed for 20 days after the grisly death.
Professional witnesses, including police and ambulance crews, were not approached at all for interview until at least nine months after Lee’s death, following calls by the family for a fresh inquiry, something highlighted in Recommendation 1.
No full forensics report has ever come to light, as noted in Recommendation 9, despite the presence of several scenes of crime officers.
An inquest, carried out in January 2008, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing as a result of gross negligence.