‘Serious flaws’ in police investigation of mysterious Upminster cement mixer death

�Essex Police made repeated “serious flaws” in their investigation into the mysterious death of a young Rainham man, an official report seen by the Recorder this week reveals.

Lee Balkwell, 33, died in the mechanism of a cement mixer at Baldwin’s Farm, Denises’ Lane, Upminster, in the early hours of July 18, 2002. Police said his death was as a result of a tragic accident, but Lee’s dad Les, 64, has long maintained his son was murdered.

Mistakes

Now, a confidential report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) shows a series of mistakes were made by officers.

n Less than 12 hours after police were called to the gruesome scene, the investigation was labelled “a tragic accident”, despite the fact full accounts by witnesses and others had not be given; a post-mortem had not taken place; and the cause of Lee’s death had yet to be established. The IPCC branded investigations at this stage as “minimal”.


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n A series of resulting errors followed, including failure by the police to pursue all forensics; a “poor” interview of a key suspect; and failure or delay in getting statements from all available witnesses.

n Further criticism revealed Lee’s clothing was destroyed immediately after his post-mortem without reason and phone records were not looked at.

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n The continuity of CCTV footage from the farm taken at the time remains under investigation.

n A 41-minute interview of one main suspect was “extremely poor, lacking depth and clarity” the ombudsman said. “An opportunity to test [the] answers and put contradictory evidence to [the suspect] was lost and has never been recovered.” This was a “serious flaw”.

n A “paucity of evidence” was passed to the CPS – which decides on whether to pursue a prosecution. Mainly because police, the ombudsman said, had failed to gather statements from eight key sources.

n Record-keeping from the original investigation, as well as further probes, were “poor”, and the IPPC said locating missing documentation for their own investigation was “very hard”.

The 2009 report recommended an independent re-investigation into Lee’s death – which is yet to be done.

Suffer

Les said: “I feel vindicated in a way. From the outset I said the investigation had not been carried out properly.

“The fact the investigation was changed from suspicious to accident while Lee’s body had yet to be extracted from the cement mixer, and that there was no determination in the interview process, doesn’t make any sense to us. It has meant me and my family continue to suffer and look for the truth nine years down the line.”

West Midlands Police began an independent probe into the Essex investigation.

Eleven recommendations were released out of a total of 91, following a Freedom of Information (FoI) disclosure, which, too, recognised flaws. The Kent and Essex serious crime directorate is working through the recommendations.

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