What happened to Lee Balkwell?
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.
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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.”
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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.