Lee Balkwell’s death: serious allegations upheld against Essex Police by IPCC
A decision made by a police officer in just fifteen minutes at an Upminster crime scene is likely to have led to ten years of questions and suspicion over the mysterious death of young man.
Lee Balkwell will be dead ten years on July 18 this year.
The 33-year-old dad-of-one was found twisted and trapped in the mechanisms of a cement mixer on a farm in Dennises Lane in the early hours of the morning.
Police say the death was a tragic accident, but Lee’s dad Les Balkwell, has long suspected foul play and feared Essex Police officers were responsible for covering it up.
Now a report by police ombudsman the IPCC, released today after four years of work, confirms the original investigation by police was “seriously flawed”, but found no evidence of corruption by officers.
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A litany of bad policing marred the inquiry from the start, it said, and dictated how the rest of the investigation played out.
Lee’s death was declared an accident a quarter of an hour after police arrived at the gruesome scene.
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This decision informed how witnesses were interviewed and evidence gathered – a lot of which is now destroyed or unusable.
“In our view [the original investigation] was seriously flawed from the outset,” the report said. “It was mired in assumption that what had happened to Lee Balkwell was a tragic industrial accident.
“Officers failed to secure potential evidence, failed to interview potential witnesses and failed to treat the death with an open mind.
“The failure of the investigation at that early stage has left evidential gaps which may never be filled.”
Lee’s father Les, 64, has been fighting to uncover the truth of what happened that fateful night ever since.
His dogged enquiries have led to four reviews of the case, including a new criminal investigation.
He came to the IPCC with more than 130 complaints about Essex Police’s investigation into the death and subsequent handling of his concerns.
In the end, more than 90 were investigated: 20 of these were either fully or partially substantiated. The remainder were unsubstantiated.
“The investigation has found that many of the substantive and serious allegations have been upheld,” Rachel Cerfontyne IPCC commissioner said.
“Whilst our investigation has provided evidence of poor police work we have found no evidence to support any theory or corruption.
“The situation should never have been allowed to develop to this stage and an inevitable consequence has been that it has prolonged [Les’s] agony and made it impossible for him to come to terms with his loss.”
It is now for the chief of Essex Police to decide whether disciplinary action will be taken against any of his officers.