Thursday, 14 October 2010

DC Graham Coe and the Third Man

Detective Constable Graham Coe was the third known person to observe the dead body of Dr David Kelly following the discovery of the corpse by searchers Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman. I have covered the evidence of the latter two at the Hutton Inquiry in previous posts, now it's the turn of Graham Coe to have his say.

Before looking at the specifics of the evidence from DC Coe I just want to say a little bit about an aspect of his evidence which has raised a few eyebrows and that concerns the number of police officers accompanying Mr Coe on the morning of 18 July 2003.  Looking at the transcripts of the Hutton Inquiry and at the point Paul Chapman informs Mr Coe that a body has been found in the woods, Mr Knox asks "Who were you with at this time?" Answer from Mr Coe "Detective Constable Shields".  Next question: "It is just the two of you?"  Answer "Yes".  I think it can be agreed that there is no possibility of misunderstanding here.  In his evidence Paul Chapman very clearly said that as he and Louise were returning to the car "we met three police officers coming the other way".  Again absolute clarity.  Other witnesses also referred to three police officers.  Because of an unexplained delay in Mr Coe presenting his evidence the other witnesses who stated they saw three police had all said their piece at the Inquiry.

With this absolutely glaring discrepancy in evidence it is little wonder that all of Mr Coe's evidence has fallen under suspicion.  Surely Mr Knox would have been aware of this mismatch but he simply didn't seek any amplification.

Out of the blue in August this year, some seven years after the event, Mr Coe, now retired, admits that there was indeed a third person in his little party.  He states that this other person was a trainee policeman who has now left the force.  Mr Coe refuses to release the name of this  individual. 

The questions that need to be asked of Mr Coe then are "Why weren't you upfront about the third man?  Surely there can't be a problem about having a trainee with you when you are making house to house inquiries?  Why so obviously lie with the result that the rest of your testimony is then under suspicion?"  If Mr Coe is being honest about the third man being a trainee then his failure to tell the truth at Hutton makes no sense whatsoever.

I've read the odd comment suggesting Mr Coe should be tried for perjury.  The writers fail to understand things.  For a person to commit perjury the lying must be done under oath.  At the Hutton Inquiry nobody was required to give testimony under oath.  This episode involving Mr Coe and the third man illustrates all too clearly the total inadequacy of the Hutton process.  If he was under oath would Mr Coe have lied about the third man when it was so obvious that he was fibbing?  I think not!  Of course giving evidence under oath doesn't stop people lying but I think that they would have to be fairly sure in their own minds that they could get away with their deceptions.  Committing perjury is an offence taken very seriously indeed, a legal eagle might be able to tell me whether a prison sentence is mandatory but I believe that is the norm.

One other point in this post - I believe that Mr Coe made his revelation about the third man at the same time that he made a point about not seeing much blood at the scene on Harrowdown Hill.  With the matter of the degree of blood loss being a major aspect of media interest at the time of his revelation I get the impression that this pushed the third man story somewhat into the background.  I shall say no more.


  1. The "trainee policeman" must be taken at face value, so was he accompanying the other two, Coe and Shields, in their early morning house-to-house searches in Southmoor before that pair, or trio, changed tack?
    I also find it slightly baffling that DC Shields was not called to the Hutton Enquiry when he could have corroborated DC Coe's account of the 18th July 2003. He may have had further inforation to add.
    I can't imagine Mr Knox failing to spot that glaring duo/trio anomaly - once again I am baffled.

  2. I must say that I've always thought that this particular anomaly in the evidence given to Lord Hutton had the potential to cover up possibly significant details that were not otherwise reported.

    If we do accept what DC Coe has now added to the public record about the trainee policeman then it is possible that he simply misspoke whilst giving evidence. Possibly he had simply forgotten about the presence of the third party, or omitted the fact because he could no longer recall the proper identity of that person and would have looked unprofessional had he been unable to name him to the Inquiry. Perhaps even he just thought that the presence of the third party was far too insignificant to have even been mentioned.

    On the other hand, and lending some weight to the various conspiracy theories now surrounding the case, perhaps slightly more took place than was actually acknowledged.

    From Mr Chapman's evidence we know that he led DC Coe back to the immediate scene whilst the two other officers remained at the edge of the woods. DC Coe stated that he was alone with the body for some 25-30 minutes, until other officers (closely followed by the paramedic team) arrived.

    This period of time now seems to lack just a few details. When Mr Chapman departed did DC Shields and the third person remain at the edge of the woods throughout? If so what were they doing at this time? Did they remain in contact with DC Coe, either by radio or by simply shouting to each other? Did at any point DC Coe return to them, even briefly, to inform them about what he had seen? Given the situation of having the company of a trainee, would it not in fact have been natural to have let him view the actual scene as part of his work experience?

    From reading elsewhere, it seems that this half an hour or so has become the main window of opportunity for the body to have been moved. I don't particularly want to speculate about this at this time, although I have previously wondered whether the third party was actually a more senior (MoD police?) officer. In no way do I want to accuse DC Coe of deliberately lying but in a corner of my mind there exists a thought about closing existing gaps whilst at the same time preventing the opening up of new ones.

  3. Andrew, the activity of DC Shields and the third man whilst DC Coe is guarding the body also intrigues me. I'll be recording some thoughts about this in a new blogpost.