Friday, 15 October 2010

DC Coe and a serious shortage of detail

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.    



  1. Leaving DC Coe aside for the moment can we just go back to Ruth Absalom and the direction that Dr Kelly was possibly travelling in. From her evidence:

    I suppose he went to my right, along the road towards Kingston Bagpuize I suppose in the end, if he had gone round that way, but obviously he was going down to the fields down the road or down to the fields down the back.

    At this time they were at the top of Harris's Lane, where it intersects the point where Hinton Road turns into Appleton Road (running east), forming something of a slanting T shape.

    At this point Dr Kelly could have turned west into Hinton Road and thereafter into Cow Lane towards the centre of Longworth, where no-one apparently saw him. On the other hand, as Ms Absalom suggests, he may have travelled east along Appleton Road as if to return to Southmoor/Kingston Bagpuize via Draycott Road (or even further out via the A415).

    If you do a Google Maps search for Harris's Lane, Longworth you can follow along Appleton Road, at about 1000 feet or half the distance to Draycott Road there are just two properties to the north of the road. At the west side of these there is a gateway which can be seen in Google Street view. The 1:25 000 OS map shows a pathway here, not necessarily a public right of way, which runs all the way to the Thames and back in the other direction to the point where the A420 meets the south end of Harris's Lane. If you follow this path north from Appleton Road past three fields (to your left) you arrive at Common Lane (not marked on Google - only on larger scale OS), near to where the searchers etc assembled, just south of Harrowdown Hill itself.

    Is this not most likely to be the route that Dr Kelly followed whilst taking his walk? It fits in with what Ms Absolom said when she spoke of his "going down to the fields down the road or down to the fields down the back." She may have assumed that he was heading home rather than lengthening his walk, maybe it wasn't obvious to her that the hill was quite possibly his chosen destination. But either way, this would be the quietest and most peaceful route for Dr Kelly to have taken, especially when bearing in mind his almost certain need for a degree of space and wider passive solitude.

  2. Hello Andrew - I've looked at the 1/25000 map and have found the north/south feature you refer to about midway as you say between Harris's Lane and Draycott Road. Now I have to disappoint you, what you are looking at is a series of dots following the field boundaries mostly and in fact this is the boundary separating the parishes of Longworth and Kingston. Please believe me on this - I really understand these maps. There is though a bridleway heading north further along (a continuation if you like of Draycott Road but north of Appleton Road. There are options from this bridleway to head (eventually) to Harrowdown Hill.

  3. Brian -

    This brings us to the question - who do you most believe - mapmakers or God?

    According to the Church of England's A Church Near You website the Longworth/Kingston parish boundary follows the more-or-less east to west line of the A420 well south of Longworth. The Longworth/Fyfield boundary lies some way east of the A415 running north to south.

    In each instance you will have to click on the 'Find Us' tab to see the exact boundary positions:

    Parish of St Mary, Longworth

    Parish of St Nicholas, Fyfield

    Parish of St John the Baptist, Kingston Bagpuize

    I've followed the line as closely as possible in Google satellite view and it seems to me to be viable along its length. I'm not exactly proposing to go and walk this route to check for myself but if I was a betting man...

  4. The Get-a-map site is helpful here, because one can click between the two largest scale maps to see the rights of way (smaller) and parish boundaries (larger). If you insert SP388005, the GR for Harrowdown Hill, you get the correctly centred map. I suspect parish boundaries follow field boundaries, so it would be possible to walk them, or indeed anywhere else provided no damage is done and with the farmer's or landowner's permission. And even without it, you could only be asked to leave I guess. I have also looked at the Satellite images. What you say, Andrew ,is,I suspect, perfectly feasible, although like everything else in this odd case highly conjectural.

  5. Andrew, for a moment you had me really worried! I'm now going to put on my local historian / map interpreters hat to solve the mystery. First thanks for the link to the Church website, looks like a useful resource which I must bookmark.

    You have flagged up the fact that the Longworth / Kingston parish boundary follows the A420. I don't have an argument about this being the present day boundary but it is absolutely inconceivable that this particular modern road is on the alignment of an old parish boundary. I must mention in passing that civil and ecclesiastical parish boundaries don't have to be co-extensive but they almost always are.

    What has happened in this instance is that the Ordnance Survey have correctly included the diverted main road on their maps but have yet to update the map to show the revised boundaries of the civil parishes in this area! Very frustrating!

    If you look at the OS map you will see the words "Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor CP" a little to the right of our dotted line and also north of the A420 (CP is civil parish - the OS aren't concerned with ecclesiastical boundaries on their maps) It looks in this instance as if both the ecclesiastical and civil boundaries were altered following the construction of the new section of A420, I have deduced that from the fact that at Longworth Parish Council they are discussing the affairs of Newbridge (on the Thames) which wouldn't be happening if the civil boundary hadn't moved in tandem with the ecclesiastical boundary change.

    You might like to look at Scroll down and there is an interesting map that shows the old parishes of Longworth and Southmoor and Kingston in which (historically)they each extended north to the Thames.

    In a nutshell then we can blame the diversion of the A420 causing the powers that be to redraw the parish boundaries and then the OS for not having updated the 1/25000 scale map! As an aside it seems as if our area of interest was historically part of Berkshire before the massive county boundary changes of (I think) 1974.

  6. Brian, leaving the map issue now, I was quite amazed to read the exchange between Peter Knox and DC Coe. I can't believe that Mr Knox's most junior pupil in chambers would be allowed to get away with letting a witness waffle on in such a vague manner in court (witnesses under oath there, of course!). In this instance, we have an extremely high profile inquiry into the events leading up to the death of a very distinguished former Porton Down chemical and biological weapons scientist and later MoD advisor,given the honour of Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George - not doubt later to be raised to KCMG - and yet Mr Knox bowls wide down the leg side. I am quite mystified. Either he is not interested (unlikely) not a capable QC (unlikely) or has been asked not to to to probe too deeply but toss a few soft balls up,no questions asked.(most likely)
    Let us not forget, DC Coe is a very important witness. I could have discovered more at a tiny fraction of the hourly rate of Mr Knox. And neither did Lord Hutton seem to need any clarification, being obviously satisfied by the vague answers here. It is, as you say, a charade, a charade of the highest order.

  7. I wasn't aware of the post from Felix when I started my very long winded explanation. Thanks for the link Felix! Just to repeat my main point - I can assure everyone that the dotted line is the old, out of date parish boundary and not any sort of path!

  8. Just to finish off about the boundaries - I Googled late into the night to find out what else I could about the area - I also found the same history paper as Brian, this was the most interesting discovery and seems to indicate that Kingston and Draycott (Southmoor) were the ancient parishes here and that both ran from the Thames to the Ock. It may well be that this original boundary line was later reinstated to form the new civil parish division, which in reality now forms the District Ward division line between Longworth Ward and Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor Ward (according to the OS OpenData system).

    I should have been clearer in my first post, I had downloaded the OS map symbol chart and seen the difference between 'CP' and 'path' dotted lines but though that they would not overlie the pair together, and that given the old tradition of "beating the boundary" there would be at least a historical way of passage, if not a proper formal route. In modern reality there seems to be at least a farming access track here along the edges of several fields even if it isn't a proper path.

    I agree with Felix that obviously it is a matter of conjecture when we are discussing the route Dr Kelly may have taken. He equally could have walked the long way around, which would follow this local trail in an anticlockwise direction, or even taken a different path through the centre of the area in question which would then have led him to the other tree line nearer Longworth itself.

    If it is correct that Paul Weaving did in fact see Dr Kelly that afternoon "walking in the fields" and then later denied this (perhaps he does not like publicity/involvement/strangers tramping through his field) and maybe even has something to do with Draycott Moor Farm then this would add weigh to the idea that he went 'cross country' to reach the hill rather than walking the extent of the roads. My own guess is that he probably did, although I've now got nothing else to add to this particular issue.

  9. Just for the record, from what I gather from the web, Paul Weaving is at New Blenheim, Stonehill Lane, to the south of Southmoor, but farms some old family land at Southmoor Farm (also SOUTH of Faringdon Road, the opposite direction to Dr Kelly's walk) But I don't read too much into that as other land might have been farmed, or Mr Weaving was elsewhere.
    I did, incidentally like the link to the lovely pub at Longworth and its charming walking map, Andrew. Thanks!