Thursday, 21 October 2010

Event times from body discovery to confirmation of death

In my last post I had tried to make sense of the time points relating to the early morning search for Dr Kelly on the 18th July 2003 up to the point when Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman found him thanks to search dog Brock.  One of the major deficiencies of the Hutton Inquiry was the abject failure to pin down the times of significant moments relating to the tragedy.  I felt that the only timings I had confidence in were the time when the searchers reported finding the body (9.20) and the time when the ambulance crew confirmed life was extinct (10.07).

Now I want to look at that forty seven minute period in which the principal witnesses were PCs Franklin and Sawyer and paramedic Vanessa Hunt and ambulance technician David Bartlett.  It is evident from the questioning that both the PCs referred to, in addition to their normal police duties, had received specialist training in the search for missing persons.  Both were based at Windsor, and we learn that PC Franklin lived there as well.  I would think that they were called in as a result of ACC Page's meeting of about 5.15 that morning that I mentioned in my last post.  PC Franklin states he was called out at 6.15 and PC Sawyer thinks his call out was about 6 o'clock for an 8 am meeting.  It can be seen just how much of a head start the volunteer searchers had by the fact that PCs Franklin and Sawyer were going into their briefing with Sergeant Paul Woods and some 8 to 10 other officers at the same time as the volunteers had arrived at the bottom of the track up to Harrowdown Hill.

As an indication of just how wrong  witnesses can be in remembering times one just has to look at the evidence from PC Sawyer who thought that the call about the discovery of Dr Kelly's body was at about 9 o'clock.  I would judge that to be a fairly significant discrepancy from the time stated by ACC Page (about 20 minutes).  Without Mr Page's evidence one might have taken PC Sawyer's time as being correct thus lengthening the period between body being found and life declared extinct by about 50%!

From the police statements we know that the search team they had put together were on the point of leaving and I don't doubt that the party set off soon after the call about finding Dr Kelly was received.  From PC Sawyer's evidence we find out that the vehicle used was a landrover and that he and PC Franklin also had the company of Sergeant Alan Dadd and three officers to act as cordons.  Whether all six policemen and their gear were crammed into their  landrover or whether two vehicles were used isn't clear.  We can only guess at the time that the police arrived at the bottom of the Harrowdown Hill track, no information about this time came out of the Inquiry. We do find out though that the ambulance team arrived very soon afterwards.

The police met searcher Paul Chapman coming down the track, he it will be remembered was delayed in returning to the car by the fact that he went back up into the woods to show DC Coe where the body was.  This was fortunate because Paul was able to point the way up the track to where DC Coe and the body of Dr Kelly were.  We can see from the questioning that PCs Franklin and Sawyer were used to working with the volunteer searchers, in fact we learn from Norman Baker's book that Louise Holmes was the girlfriend of PC Sawyer.

It might be questioned why the police didn't reduce time by driving the landrover up the track but it must be remembered that the two police constables were in an unfamiliar area and in fact it is recorded that they did drive up to the woods later.  The ambulance crew just behind them would also I think have wondered about taking their vehicle up the unmade track.

At this point I want to mention another oddity in the evidence as to timing of events.  Mr Dingemans is asking Vanessa Hunt if she had a call that morning relating to Dr Kelly.  Receiving an affirmative he asks "What time did you get that call?"  The reply from Ms Hunt: "At 09.40 hours to the ambulance station".  Supposedly Abingdon Police Station was informed about the discovery of Dr Kelly's body at 9.20.  We are to believe then that it took 20 minutes for someone to think "Oh we ought to send an ambulance".  Perhaps someone walked from police station to ambulance station to deliver the message.  Sorry, I'm being facetious.  Mr Knox asks Mr Bartlett: "Can you remember when you arrived at the place you were going to?"  Mr Bartlett: "The time?"  Mr Knox: "Yes, the time".  Mr Bartlett: "9.55"   The context of the questions suggests I think that we are talking about arrival at the bottom of the track at this point.  It took then 15 minutes to cover a journey of about I believe 8 miles.  A slow average on the face of it but the actual location of the ambulance station in Abingdon might have quite a distorting effect on the time if the ambulance had to navigate through a lot of streets before reaching the open road.

As previously mentioned the police with the ambulance crew close behind were walking up the track and met Paul Chapman coming down.  If David Bartlett's timing is correct then we have the situation where Paul is returning to the car some 35 minutes after reporting the finding of Dr Kelly.  Now Paul, who seems to me to be a very solid witness, had stated that he had met DC Coe and his companions "2 or 3 minutes after I had made the phone call" .  At this point there  evidently was a brief discussion and confirmation of identities and Paul returned to the body with DC Coe.  If all this process took 10 minutes or so from the moment Paul made his phone call then we are looking at 9.30 or thereabouts.  Let's say Paul left DC Coe at 9.35, then from Mr Bartlett's timings we have Paul still going down the track toward the car 20 minutes later!

Earlier Paul had reckoned it would take them 10 minutes to return to the car so how does he take so long?  There might be a very mundane explanation and the only one I can think of at the moment.  Where the cars would have been parked looks to be a relatively open area, around the corner into the track leading up to Harrowdown Hill there is a degree of privacy.  Maybe Paul had arrived back at Louise's car ten minutes earlier, chatted to her and then nature called and he walked back up the track a short distance.  What I am saying is that this apparent oddity in timing might have the most innocent of explanations. 

Now another timing peculiarity to resolve.  Staying with David Bartlett's time of 9.55 as the time of arrival at the parking area then we have to add at least ten minutes to get the police and the two ambulance crew up to the position of the body bearing in mind equipment is being carried and it is slightly uphill.  This takes us to !0.05, extinction of life is recorded as being at 10.07.  We know that the ambulance crew had to keep stopping what they were doing for PC Sawyer to take pictures so the two minute time slot is not nearly long enough.  Also Mr Bartlett informs Mr Knox that the crew were at the site of the body for 5 to10 minutes which sounds reasonable to me.  They didn't leave immediately they had declared life extinct though because it seems that they had to wait a short time for PC Sawyer to take some more photos. 

As can be seen from my investigation it is very difficult indeed to reconcile all the movements and timings to fit those few times we believe we know.  After my last post Andrew had drawn attention to the looseness of the time points - how right he is!


  1. Here, examining Dave Bartlett, Knox comes across as somewhat testy, in contrast to his kid glove handling of DC Coe a fortnight later. What was the signficance of telling Dave his ambulance number when he didn't know it,unless to intimidate?
    14 Q. What is the number of the ambulance you were working in
    15 that day; can you remember?
    16 A. I cannot remember to be honest without going back to the
    17 computer readouts. We use so many different ones.
    18 Q. If I say number 934, does that sound right?
    19 A. Could be, yes.
    Is that to suggest that any subsequent evidence might be unreliable?
    Or did it prove that Knox had a copy of the now missing ambulance attendance record?

    You highlighted the following exchange in your post, Brian...

    8 Q. Can you remember when you arrived at the place you were
    9 going to?
    It is a strange,vague question because the ambulanace crew couldn't have known exactly where they were going. Why wasn't he precise with this question, because Knox seemed to have a good idea of the layout of lane, track and hill from his earlier questions?
    Dave Bartlett's answer of 9.55 seems in contrast a very precise answer, but from what I read, too late to walk up the track and pronounce life extinct in the wood at 10.07. Perhaps DB had mugged the answer up beforehand?

    I am unfamiliar though with procedure in such an Inquiry - would Knox for instance have gone through his questioning beforehand with his witnesses?

  2. I've always wondered Felix about the seemingly irrelevant question about the ambulance number. It's possible I think that DB glanced at his watch half way up the track, saw it said 9.55 and subconciously that became the time of arrival in his mind. It would then just about be possible to get the body examination into the time frame.

    What is really coming to the fore I believe is the totally unsatisfactory process at the Inquiry in establishing times. Now with the benefit of hindsight and the time to look forensically at everything that was said at the Inquiry I just find it impossible to make all the sketchy details of timings fit the actuality of events as far as we know them.

  3. Just thinking a little bit more about the 20 minute delay between Paul Chapman phoning in about the discovery of Dr Kelly and the time that a call was made to Abingdon ambulance station. It seems as if the conclusion that Dr Kelly was dead was based on the judgement (correct as it turned out) of the observation of a volunteer searcher. If Paul had phoned in to say the body was peppered with bullets or burnt to a cinder then witness statement of death would seem pretty conclusive. But on the basis of what Louise saw and relayed to Paul who didn't get that close to the body could they be sure back at the police station that Dr Kelly was dead. Of course there is a possibility that they were already aware of Dr Kelly's demise although I'm not saying that was the case.

  4. Just on Felix's question - "would Knox for instance have gone through his questioning beforehand with his witnesses?"

    No - this would be unlikely but he had the benefit of reading all their witness statements to TVP, which have never been released. They are all listed on the TVP evidence page on the Hutton Inquiry website.

    Hutton Inquiry TVP evidence page