The British Gazette has invited me to write about the various investigations into the death of Lee Balkwell (above) over eight years ago, which includes an introduction to a new YouTube video on the case.
Lee Balkwell was a 33-year-old man from an east London family who lost his life in mysterious circumstances the night of 17/18 July 2002, at Baldwins Farm, South Ockendon, Essex. In early 2007, his grieving father, Les Balkwell, contacted me, having heard about my work investigating another mysterious death, that of Stuart Lubbock, who was killed at the home of Michael Barrymore in 2001. He asked me to investigate how his son really died. I have been assisting him with his investigations for the past three years.
The two deaths have many features in common. Among the most crucial was that in both cases, the now-discredited Home Office pathologist Dr Michael John Heath was, by a process yet to be investigated, chosen by senior Essex Police Officers to carry out the post-mortems. The second feature is that in both cases, huge amounts of vital evidence were ‘lost’ or destroyed on the orders of senior Police Officers during that all-important first 48 hours, sometimes called the ‘Golden Period’, as it is the best time of all to invent a cover story and ‘lose’ vital evidence.
The police version has always been that Lee lost his life whilst inexplicably crawling out of a 14-inch-wide inspection hatch of a revolving mixer drum in pitch black at 1.00am, having, it was said, been drilling out hardening concrete in the drum for close on six hours. After a few months carrying out his own investigations, father Les Balkwell reached a very different conclusion: that his son had been murdered at around midnight and that his body had been placed in the cement mixer to make his death look like a ‘tragic accident’.
Hopefully the 10-minute film we’ve made, now on YouTube, will introduce you to some of the key issues in the case.
But by way of background, I’ll just summarise some of the extraordinary developments in the case between Lee’s death and today:
* None of those at the scene of Lee’s death were interviewed for the first 19 days
* Thenm, one of those at the scene was questioned, but was told by Essex Police before the interview started that the police believed this to be a ‘tragic accident’
* Within five weeks Senior Investigating Officer Graeme Bull had filed a report with the Crown Prosecution Service saying that all the evidence showed this was a ‘tragic accident’. CPS Senior Prosecutor Christopher McCann agreed, and the police began to prepare the case for an inquest, hoping for an ‘accidental death’ verdict
* After Les Balkwell raised questions about what happened to his son’s clothing in early 2003, Essex Police Head of Crime Steve Reynolds tasked two senior officers, Simon Coxall and Peter Hood, with carrying out a review. The review meandered for three years with no inquest being arranged. Steve Reynolds was later promoted to a senior post with the Independent Police Complaints Commission
* Les Balkwell complained to the Police Complaints Authority in 2003, but they appointed Peter Hood to ‘investigate’ the actions of police. Unsurprisingly, he cleared all his fellow officers, apart from mild rebukes handed out to three officers
* After Les Balkwell published a website in July 2006 which gave evidence as to why his son was murdered, Essex Police swiftly brought in another senior reviewing officer, Keith Garnish. That was also ineffective
* Two attempts to hold an inquest in 2007 failed, the first time because Essex Police appointed a corrupt Coroner’s Assistant who was discovered to be planning to ensure an ‘accidental dearth’ verdict at the inquest, the second because Essex Police failed to inform the Coroner until two days before the inquest that a key witness had been extradited to Germany five weeks previously and would therefore be unavailable for the inquest
* An inquest jury of 10 in February 2008 unanimously held that Lee Balkwell was ‘unlawfully killed by gross negligence/manslaughter’. The Coroner had ruled that she would not allow the jury to bring in a homicide verdict, despite Les Balkwell’s barrister submitting that there was ‘overwhelming circumstantial evidence’ that Lee had been murdered
* In June 2009 the Independent Police Complaints Commission, having investigated the case anew for a year, issued a confidential report which slammed Essex Police for ‘serious flaws’ (see the IPCC press release of August 2009). They recommended that Essex allow an independent police force to investigate the whole case afresh
* The Essex Chief Constable, Jim Barker-McCardle, rejected the recommendation, instead asking West Midlands Police to carry out a ‘review’
* The West Midlands Review by Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Mirfield made 91 separate recommendations, and is believed to have been even more critical of Essex Police than the IPCC
* Jim McCardle refused a second time to allow an independent police force to re-investigate the case, instead instructing his own joint Essex & Kent Serious Crime Directorate to follow up new lines of enquiry. These lines of enquiry are now being pursued by a new team of detectives under Acting Chief Superintendent Lee Catling of Essex & Kent SCD.
When this case is finally solved, I fully expect we will find that a ‘ring’ of major drug-dealers – and the corrupt senior Essex Police officers on whom their livelihood depends – will have conspired to keep Lee’s family and the public from knowing the truth about how Lee Balkwell died.
Tony Bennett, Harlow, 16 October 2010
British Gazette comment: More information on this disturbing case can be found at: http://www.leebalkwell-the-truth.co.uk/
The video below shows a scene of death and Mr. Balkwell’s body. Those readers of a sensitive disposition are advised not to view it.