Reading through the transcripts of the Hutton Inquiry it is evident that Lord Hutton's counsel appointees, Mr Dingemans and Mr Knox, were at pains to set the scene when people such as the two dog searchers, the ambulance crew, PCs Sawyer and Franklin were giving their evidence. To elaborate a little: they would be asked such questions as when they were briefed, who briefed them, were there others being briefed at the same time, when did they leave for Harrowdown Hill, that sort of thing. So it was possible to get a reasonably clear idea as to their movements and timings from the moment they were called out on the morning of 18th July. This I believe was the correct and normal procedure to follow.
However when Detective Constable Graham Coe gave his evidence as the first witness of the morning on Tuesday 16th September 2003 things could hardly have been more different. It was Mr Knox's turn to proceed with the questioning. After recording the witness's name and occupation we find out that Mr Coe is based at Wantage which lies some miles south of our area of interest, this is not to say that Mr Coe actually lives in Wantage of course. The next question tells us that Mr Coe got called out at 6 o'clock. Then he is asked "Where did you go?" The reply "I went over to Longworth". "Longworth police station?" asks Mr Knox in response to Mr Coe's somewhat unexpected reply. "Abingdon police station" Mr Coe says and then, like a perfectly flighted boomerang, "I went out to the Longworth area". For a brief moment Mr Knox hauls Mr Coe back to Abingdon by asking "When you got to the police station, what were you asked to do?" "Go and make some house to house inquiries in the area where Dr Kelly lived" is Mr Coe's reply.
Mr Coe, in his fifties at the time, must surely have been aware of the established procedure of establishing the early facts to set his later evidence in context. However he seems to be a man with a mission; a desire to get through his evidence in the shortest possible time with the very minimum number of words. Mr Knox appears to be happy to go along with what I perceive to be a charade; why didn't he establish when Mr Coe got his briefing, who gave the briefing, were other police officers present, when did Mr Coe leave Abingdon to start his inquiries, was DC Shields at the same briefing, were other officers conducting house to house inquiries, we know none of the answers to these and other related questions.
It would seem that Mr Coe struck lucky in his inquiries: Mr Knox "Where did you go then?" Mr Coe describes how "We spoke to a witness ... who had seen Dr Kelly on the afternoon, ... and myself and a colleague went to the area where she had last seen him and made a sort of search towards the river". Further questioning confirms the river to be the Thames and the witness Ruth Absalom.
An interesting albeit small point here: Mr Coe uses the word "we" when describing talking to the witness and then instead of repeating "we" when they went to the area in which Dr Kelly had been seen he talks of "myself and a colleague". Were there other officers doing house to house inquiries one wonders and Mr Coe deciding to select DC Shields to accompany him. Ms Absalom had told the Inquiry that she met Dr Kelly at the top of Harris's Lane but she can't be absolutely certain which way he continued after they parted company. Her description I feel is open to some interpretation but she does mention the road to Kingston Bagpuize and this road is in the opposite direction to that toward Harrowdown Hill and the river. Compounding the problem of geography is the fact that the northern end of Harris's Lane forms a T junction with a west to east road.
Although the main part of Longworth village lies a little way to the north west of the road junction there are some properties very close by and one might have thought that Mr Coe and his "colleague" would have knocked on a few doors there next. They didn't do that it seems but "made a sort of search towards the river". Mr Knox inexplicably doesn't ask the reason for this decision. The other thing that I want to mention is Mr Coe's rather odd use of the English language - the phrase "made a sort of search towards the river", it is quite woolly, I would really have expected something far more precise from a serving policeman.
I will continue with Mr Coe's extraordinary testimony in another post.