Justice Denied: The Suspicious Death of Lee Balkwell

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A system that has to be just and fair enough to defend the rights of individuals is a major source of injustice and corruption in itself. This series of five fact-based documentaries takes us to the real world of the so-called justice in the UK. Here we see and hear the stories of five individuals who have been subject of miscarriages in the United Kingdom. Each episode focuses on ordinary, victim people who, through misfortune or mere bad luck, had to resort to the civil or the criminal justice system in order to seek redress but have been let down. At the end of the day, we get beneath the veneer of the judicial structure of the UK, which seemingly appears efficient and accessible, but in reality, suffers from endemic shortfalls.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Britain has been rocked by scandal upon scandal from its police force. The organisation has repeatedly been found wanting when it comes to stamping out corrupt and criminal behaviour in its ranks. My name is Michael Doherty. I’m a civil liberties campaigner and founder of Justice Now. I seek to bring about fundamental change to the systems of police accountability in the UK. Lee Balkwell died in suspicious circumstances in the summer of 2002. The police have declared it a freak accident, but his father suspects murder. Les had concerns about the conduct of the police at the scene of Lee’s death and dozens of misconduct charges have been upheld against officers who investigated it. Despite countless reviews of the case Lee's father feels we are no closer to seeing justice for his son.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “He said that the hands and the arms were not part of the trauma in the drum. Well if they weren’t part of the trauma in the drum, where did the injuries come from that are on the hands and the arms?”

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “And he was then placed on the concrete mixer, the people who owned the farm there would have switched on the cement mixer. There’s absolutely no doubt, that could not have happened by accident.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: I’ve come to the end of the line, Upminster. The very furthest east in London. In July 2002 a man by the name of Lee Balkwell died in this suburb in the middle of the night. When emergency services arrived on scene they didn’t know what to make of it, they found a man hanging out of a cement mixer at 1am. Was this a bizarre accident or something more sinister.”

Narration: The dead man's name was Lee Balkwell, and even now, 12 years later, his father is still fighting to get to the truth of what happened to his son.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “The scene that they found was a lorry parked and my son’s body was wedged between the drum of that lorry, which was a cement mixing lorry, and the chassis.”

Narration: Here you can see one of the lorry's two identical access hatches, Lee's arms and head had been trapped inside the hatch, his body was outside as the drum had revolved. His bodywas caught between the chassis of the vehicle and thedrum as it turned, causing severe injuries to his torso.The situation seems suspicious purely by virtue of how unusual it is. Tony Bennett represents and advises Les Balkwell.

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “The only thing really for the police to decide was, was this foul play or not. Some of the ambulance and fire crew were very observant and there were all sorts of indications at that stage that this could not have been an accident.”

Narration: This is CCTV footage from Baldwin's farm, where Lee died.The ambulance arrives [pause] and the crew rush to the cement mixer.There was nothing that they could do, Lee had died instantly.One paramedic wrote in his pocketbook that this deathcould be due to "foul play".Another also felt that it was a suspicious death,and a third reluctant to touch the bodyin case they damaged important evidence.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “According to the initial investigation, how did Lee die?”

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “The initial investigation worked on the basis that it was an accident. Although, at around about 2.30 in the morning there must have been some honest officers around because they declared it a suspicious death.”

Narration: The police would revert to the opinion that this was a freak accident and would state that they have investigated all possibilities thoroughly.They maintain that Lee Balkwell and Simon Bromley were cleaning the inside of the concrete mixer,using drills to remove hardened concrete from the inside of the drum.They had taken it in turns to climb out, switch on the engineand very slowly rotate the drum so they could clean the nextsection of it.On one occasion Simon Bromley went to switch the engineon and a mechanical failure caused the drum toimmediately and rapidly spin.Lee had for some reason tried to climb out througha maintenance hatch and was halfway out when this failure occured, trapping him between the drum and the chassis, killing him instantly. Les Balkwell and Tony Bennett strongly disagree with the police’s assessment and believe a verydifferent sequence of events unfolded.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “This is the farm where Lee met his death back in 2002. It’s owned by the Bromley family. A family that’s had a chequered history with the police over the years. Lee was employed there back in 2002 when he met his death. Les, his father believes there was criminal activity involved in the death of his son.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “And how do you believe Lee died?”

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “My belief from the information we’ve received is that Simon Bromley suspected Lee of having an affair or a fling with his partner Sue Lawrence. He had actually left at 11.35, we have no doubt that he had socialised with them, perhaps had a lager, game of pool and left. They had had a large delivery of cocaine to the farm that night. My belief is that they got high on the cocaine, they suspected Lee of having an affair. We believe he was called back, attacked soon after being called back. Badly attacked.”

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “He was then placed by members of the family at the farm on the concrete mixer. The people who own the farm there would have switched on the cement mixer and the inspection hole would have come round, taken his head and shoulders below, left the rest of his body outside it, that’s quite clear from the photographs. There’s absolutely no doubt that that could not have happened by accident.”

Narration: Les eventually managed to obtain photos from hisson's post mortem.He points out injuries on Lee's body thatare not explained by the police's version of events,and says that they support his theoryfor how Lee died.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “What we believe is something’s been tied round his wrist and the forensic photographer has given that opinion, a bloke who’s spent 20 to 30 years photographing these sort of things. He said “Unfortunately Mr Balkwell it appears your son has been restrained by something tied round his wrist.” Secondly this is what I say is a cut on the palm. The opinion given by people who are not regarded as experts but have experienced similar things say that looks like a classic defence wound where Lee has protected himself and grabbed the blade, and as they’ve pulled the blade out it’s cut through the palm of the hand. In Dr Swift’s original opinion to please he said that the arms and hands were not part of the trauma in the drum. Well if they weren’t part of the trauma in the drum then where did the injuries come from that are on the hands and the arms. For example he said the hands and arms were not part of the trauma in the drum, well where did all this come from then? He’s telling us it’s come from somewhere else isn’t he? But the police, when you try and speak to them about this, they ignore these as though they’re not there. We need answers.”

Narration:The police pathologist’s opinion was that all of Lee’s injuries were either caused by the drum of the concrete mixer or caused after death by the firemen’s attempts to free him from the lorry. It was a long and difficult process. The police have stuck to this view through several examinations of Lee’s body. Les had concerns about the conduct of the police at thescene of Lee's death, and did not feel the investigationwas carried out properly.Complaints about this were lodged. Had key witnessesbeen identified and interviewed in the proper way? Was evidence seized and secured in a timely manner?It was 2003 when these complaints were made.

Essex police carried out an investigation into these complaints but came to the conclusion that the officers involved had done their jobs properly and that they overall operation had been executed as it should have been. This was not the last that Essex police wouldhear of these complaints, but more on that later.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: Les says his concerns with the police were not limited to the investigations at the scene of his son’s death. Many of his interactions with the police since that night in 2002 have caused him massive concern.”

Narration: The issue of what happened to Lee's clothingis one such concern for his father.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “We was led to believe right up till October of 2002 that the police still had the clothing, that it was needed for forensics. Well we now know that was a lie because they never done no forensics and as has come out in the last 18 months to 2 years, documents have been found that show, that the SIO Graham Ball had ordered the destruction of my son’s clothing within 24 hours of him being removed from the drum.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “And is there any explanation as to why they destroyed evidence so early on in the case”

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “They said that Lee’s partner didn’t want them. But that’s got nothing to do with the forensics. I didn’t want them but I wanted them to keep them and do a forensic study of the clothing because we thought there’d be something untoward happen and there could have been a transfer of body fluids or DNA or whatever.”

Narration: The Bromleys had a CCTV system at Baldwin's Farm.Many cameras all linked in to one system.Les requested a copy of the CCTV after viewing someof it with his daughter at a police station.But the tapes he was sent were incomplete - there was 1 hour offootage missing in between the 2 tapes, and moreimportantly they only showed the view of 1 camera.When Les complained about this, he gota strange reaction. The police sent a new tapewithout acknowledging their earlier mistake.The new tape matched what Les had seen at thepolice station, showing several other camera viewsat the very start, but only for fractions of a second each.This police footage from the morning after Lee's death showsthe concrete mixer parked opposite the Bromleys' property.On the side of the house you can just make out aCCTV camera.Here it can be seen more clearly, just abovethe fence, pointing out over the road towardsthe concrete mixer.This frame from the CCTV tape is undoubtedlyfilmed by that camera, just above the fence,and has a clear viewof where the cement mixer was parked when Leedied.Footage from this camera would solve Lee'sdeath in a heartbeat.So where is it?

The police assert that this single second of video is all that theyhave from this crucial camera. Did the police at the scene of Lee'sdeath fail to seize all of the necessary tapes?Had the footage been tampered with before they got there?After 12 years it's impossible to know.Terry Haynes was the name of the officer whosupplied the first 2 tapes to Les, and later charges of misconduct would be upheld against him for doing so.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “The importance about the tapes is they do not carry the Essex technical department’s logo or record number. So if a police officer supplied tapes that weren’t made by the technical department who has made them? He’s going to have to answer the question.”

Narration: Haynes resigned when he was told that he wouldbe interviewed by the Independent Police ComplaintsCommission.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “What he also said was he made this statement to the IPPC that he’s not prepared to cooperate with the investigation or the inquiry. That is in black and white. I wonder why. Funny that, isn’t it?”

Narration: We inquired as to why this CCTV is missing but Essex police elected not to give us an answer to our questions.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “Lee Balkwell died in 2002 but it wasn’t until 2008 that his inquest was held here in Chelmsford. But it wasn’t just a 6 year wait for an inquest. This was the 3rd attempt. The first 2 failed under very strange circumstances.”

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “Les Balkwell in the lead up to that inquest he had a meeting at Brentwood police station with the Detective Constable who was taking an interview from him at the time and during that interview the Detective Inspector – I’ll give his name – Ian Rainham took a call from a man called Derek Bynes who had been appointed as the coroner’s officer. He was heard on the telephone by Les Balkwell to say “Look I’m going to run this inquest as an accidental death” Les Balkwell heard it, mentioned it to the officer, the officer wrote a report up on it confirming that those words had been said and to cut a long story short as a result of that the solicitor made representations and Derek Bynes was taken off the case. Clearly corrupt, trying to manipulate a whole inquest as an accident.”

Narration: The next attempt at an inquest also ended in failure.When the inquest did at last get under wayit lasted 9 days and marked an importantshift in the focus of the case.

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “Les Balkwell’s barrister Tony Bentham said in submission to the coroner that there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Lee Balkwell was murdered. Overwhelming circumstantial evidence. The coroner said “no I’m not putting that to the jury, there’s not enough evidence.” So the jury’s range of options was limited but the jury said he was killed by gross negligence manslaughter. Basically suggesting that he was killed by the fault of the people on the farm but not alleging deliberate intent.”

Narration: Meanwhile, as the inquest was going on,a new investigation had just begun intothe conduct of the police.The Independent Police Complaints Commission,the body that looks into complaints against police officers,was once again turning its eyes to the Balkwell case.

But unlike in 2003 when they effectively allowedEssex police to investigate themselves,

the IPCC this time decided they should handle it personally.This time the outcome was completely different.

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “26 separate complaints were upheld of misconduct. 13 against the Chief Superintendent Graham Ball.In other words the most senior officer on the case.Another 2 against Detective Superintendent Gareth Wilson and then various other officers, a total of 26 complaints and very briefly the main complaints against Graham Ball.Failed to identify appropriate witnesses.Failed to re-interview the leading suspect Simon Bromley when there was clear cause to do so.Forensic failures of many kinds.Failed to consider possibility of foul play.”

Narration: The 2012 IPCC report resulted in yet anotherreview of the case. Bit by bit the oldnarrative was being overturned.The investigation was now labelled as "seriously flawed"by the IPCC. Action had to be taken.

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “They recommended there should be a brand new investigation by a new police force, an outside police force, which is what we asked for. A very clear recommendation, this is so bad, so flawed that there should be a full reinvestigation. It didn’t happen because the IPCC only has the legal power to recommend, it can’t force a police force. So what Essex police force did was delay for 3 months – do nothing. Then they put it out to West Midlands police force for a review.”

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “There was a review by West Midlands Police led by a top officer named Chief Superintendent Muirfield who made 91 recommendations to whoever investigated after his review. The funny thing was that Essex fluffed about for 6 months before the sorted out Kent to do it.”

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “The problem we’ve got with Kent if I may say briefly is that Kent and Essex are very much merged and collaborating forces sharing a lot of resources at the top level. They have a joint senior crime directorate. So the idea that this was an independent force is false. We still haven’t got what the IPCC recommended in 2009, Kent is not independent of Essex.”

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “How can they investigate when you’ve got Mark Hall, Gareth Wilson, both involved in the Kent and Essex serious organised crime directorate and yet they’ve been found guilty of misconduct within the case.”

Narration:When we asked Kent police why they had been selected to carry out this investigation they told us to speak to Essex police. Essex police declined to comment on the matter. As part of the new investigation, the policesought to re-examine Lee's body.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “Almost 11 years after Lee’s death his body was to be exhumed. It was a sign that the police were taking the new investigation seriously. But over a decade later was there really any useful evidence to be found?”

Narration: It was a blustery March night in 2013 when the police and the mediadescended on an Upminster cemetery. With the old investigationnow discredited as a shambles, this was anopportunity to begin putting things right.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty: “Did the exhumation of Lee’s body reveal anything previously unknown.”

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “I can’t tell you that for the simple reason that the police have refused to disclose the full report of Dr Benjamin Swift who carried out the report. Now we have got a copy of the post-mortem report which is a limited document on the main findings, the much longer report has not been disclosed to us. But I think it’s fair to say that the exhumation didn’t produce any surprises.”

Narration:We asked the police what the new exhumation revealed if anything, and they wouldn’t tell us either. Kent’s investigation seemed far more focused and determined than the original Essex one. It brought with it something that Les Balkwell had waited years for. Arrests. Tony Bennet recounts what at first seemed like a breakthrough in the case

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “Simon Bromley, he was arrested along with other members of his family. And he was arrested on suspicion of murder is what the police told us. Then a whole year passed before the police said that they were charging him for gross negligence manslaughter.”

Narration:In addition Simon Bromey was also charged with violations of the health and safety regulations. 4 other people were arrested under suspicion of perjury and perverting the course of justice but were never charged with anything. When we inquired as to why all these severe charges decreased or disappeared, Essex police offered no comment.

INTERVIEW [English], Tony Bennett, Les Balkwell’s Representative: “The charge of gross negligence manslaughter goes back to the accident scenario. It’s not an allegation of deliberate killing at all, it’s an allegation that he negligently allowed this accident to happen and neither I nor Les Balkwell can accept that because it’s not compatible with the 141 evidential points that I’ve set out here. What’s been going on in the last few months just to bring you up to date is that we’ve made strenuous efforts to stop this prosecution and there doesn’t seem to be any way of doing it. This prosecution is going to allow – we say – Simon Bromley to get away with saying “Ok it was an accident and I’ve been punished for it” but it’s a false prosecution because it flies in the face of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that this was not an accident.”

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “For it to be gross negligence Lee had to be working at 1.03 in the morning which he wasn’t. Work had finished around half past 9, there are so many things that point to that. They are cherry picking and promoting. Now we have evidence that there was only a quarter of a metre of concrete left in that drum. What that equates to is around 50 minutes work for 1 man. Now they’ve maintained all along that there was 2 in that drum – Lee, and Simon Bromley – so that should cut it down a bit. The 50 minutes is clean it out and wash it down. When the fire brigade turn up at 3 o’clock in the morning and do their video and photography it’s all soaking wet. Piles of water. That shows that it’s been washed out. The drum only gets washed out at the end of play, at the end of work, when you clean it out and it’s finished. Otherwise you’re getting straight inside and it’s soaking wet – there’s no need. Also there’s a small pile of slurry there. Now that shows that the lorry had been washed out. Now it obviously hadn’t been washed out after Lee died because you’ve got a body hanging out. So it was washed out before Lee died which is the signing off signature to say work’s done, we’ve washed the lorry out. So how come if they’ve finished work they’re trying to prosecute Bromley for gross negligence? That has to happen when you’re working and they weren’t working.”

Narration: Les theorises that when the concrete mixer drives offand returns after 9pm, it was collecting water tocomplete the cleaning of the drum.This could have been when work ended for the night. Simon Bromley stood trial for gross negligence manslaughter but was found not guilty.He was found guilty of breaching health and safety regulations – of not providing a safe working environment for Lee. It is not his first conviction.In 2006 he was jailed for eight years for a firearms offence and for operating a cocaine business.

The police would say that this conviction however minor represents justice. That Simon Bromley has been held accountable for his part in Lee’s death. Bromley himself has said that the death was deeply traumatic for him. The major problem is, and always will be, that the original investigation was found to be inadequate. Great police work later on cannot compensate for poor police work at the very start. Essex and Kent police have not stated that they view the Balkwell case to be permanently closed but it is now difficult to imagine them reopening it.

INTERVIEW [English], Les Balkwell, Lee Balkwell’s Father: “And the worst thing about it all is we don’t think he was dead when they put him in the drum because one of the worst thing I’ve ever had to read in my life is that Lee was biting his tongue when he was found in the drum. I’m sorry but you bite the tongue I would think when you die. This was an execution.”

Narration: Les told us that there is more to come in this case,that he will continue to fight on, and that new developments will show the case in a new light.He remains determined to win the argument and prove the police wrong.


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