Saturday, 23 April 2011

Why was the scene tent erected over Dr Kelly's body?

I have previously written about the scene tent that was erected at an unspecified time over Dr Kelly's body.  See here: and here

This post specifically addresses the question of why this tent was erected in the first place.  A reminder for those less familiar with events at Harrowdown Hill on Friday 18th July 2003:  Dr Kelly's body was discovered in the wood that covers the top of the Hill, the white tent visible in the media reports was supposedly there to give personnel protection from the weather if it decided to rain when they wanted to write up notes, etc.  So, no, this tent didn't cover the body!

In Dr Hunt's testimony, Mr Knox asking the questions, we have this exchange:

Q. Did you then carry out a more thorough investigation of the body?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. At what time did that more thorough investigation begin?
A. I was logged back into the scene at about 10 minutes past 2 that afternoon, to begin the definitive scene examination.
Q. Was anything over the body by that stage? 
A. Yes, a scene tent had been erected over the body.  Although it was in very dense woodland there were obvious concerns to preserve the dignity of the deceased. 

It's at this point that Lord Hutton seeks clarification about the white tent as I explained above.

In his report Dr Hunt records, without explanation, the presence of the scene tent over the body.  Mr Knox, having the pathologist's report in front of him of course, decided to get that information into the public domain.  The "obvious concerns to preserve the dignity of the deceased" really doesn't wash with me - if the body was in a location overlooked by houses say one might have reason to accept Dr Hunt's statement but at Harrowdown Hill with only police and forensic specialists seeing the body Dr Hunt's words don't resonate with me at all.

It seems to me that either Dr Hunt or DCI Young would have made the decision to have the scene tent erected, it certainly wouldn't have been down to anyone else thinking it was just a good idea surely.  We have the ludicrous situation of the forensic biologist Mr Green not seeing the body in relation to its environment at any stage of the approximately five hours he is at Harrowdown Hill.

How big was the tent?  Was it two made effectively into one with the adjoining flaps removed?  Were the nettles with the spots of blood on them inside or outside the tent?  Was the two to three foot long pool of blood and bloodstaining only seen by Dr Hunt inside or outside the tent or a bit of each?

This was a potential crime scene.  Surely you would do everything possible to avoid disrupting the area.  Surely you would want your forensic experts to be able to view the scene in its entirety and with the least possible contamination by other human activity like erecting a tent.

Of course we have to consider the possibility that Thames Valley Police were already aware of how Dr Kelly met his demise and that covering the scene with a tent assisted anybody who might have reason to alter the situation there with some degree of privacy. 


  1. Brian

    I think you answer your question insightfully with your last sentence.

    Acc Page admits from the outset that this was never going to be a murder investigation, how was he able to rule this out before any evidence was gathered? "I would not say I launched a murder investigation but the investigation was of that standard."

    Why were photographs of the scene so unwelcome at Hutton’s Bun Fight
    "LORD HUTTON: Were the packets actually found -- in what part of the clothing?
    (Mr Green)
    A. They were in Dr Kelly's Barbour jacket, my Lord. I have a photograph --
    LORD HUTTON: I think it suffices to have your evidence, thank you."

    Mr Dinghams and PC Franklin are in agreement that the reason for the photographs not being published but why not show them to witnesses at the inquiry that had seen the body?

    "Q. When you first saw the body, were there any pads on the chest?
    A. No, the shirt was done up when we got there. My colleague -- if I may explain. We take photographs of these sort of scenes all the time as a matter of course because we knew the paramedics would be disturbing the clothing and possibly disturbing the scene.
    Q. You took the photographs?
    A. PC Sawyer.
    Q. Before the body was disturbed?
    A. Yes.
    Q. That showed the shirt buttoned up?
    A. Yes.
    Q. Copies of those photographs have been supplied to the Inquiry?
    A. I believe PC Sawyer supplied them, yes.
    Q. For fairly obvious reasons those are not being published.
    A. Absolutely, yes.

    The photos taken whilst the ambulance crew were present would show the body with its head some distance from a tree (the ambulance technician stood in this gap when he was checking for signs of life) and both ambulance crew report the wrist injury facing upwards, the wound not visible because it was covered with dried blood.

    Lord Hutton said he had seen a photo of the body with its head slumped against the base of a tree.

    And PC's Sawyer & Franklin said the injury to the wrist was not visible because the wrist was facing downward.

    Photographs taken by the forensic team photographer and Mr Green would show the body in the position it was when they were present.

    Clearly the tent was erected to hide the repositioning of the body and the process of adding a 2-3 foot pool of blood.

    The photographs are key to establishing the facts, Mr Grieve and his team have access to those photographs, they have the proof that the body was repositioned.

  2. One does wonder where the inner cordon was and who manned it. I am guessing it did not encircle the whole copse, rather perhaps a small circle surrounding the blue tent. My suspicion is that the blue tent was to prevent other police or forensic officers from noticing what was going on around the body. There were, for instance, at least two mounted police inside the outer cordon. What on earth were they there for? Rounding up people entering the outer cordon via Thames Side Farm or up the footpath from the riverbank itself?

  3. LL, that really is an odd choice of words by ACC Page! The phrase "unexplained death" which I think was used initially by Mr Purnell is I believe the wording used by the police when either they don't know the cause of death or when perhaps they do but don't want it in the public domain at that moment. I would have thought that while a death is unexplained then the quality of investigation would be that of a murder inquiry until such time as clarification is obtained.

    Regarding the photographs I entirely agree with you. I can't see any reason why, at an inquiry, witnesses can't be shown relevant photos.

    If there is a jury at an inquest then I would expect jury members to be shown photographs where witness statements, as here, are in conflict.

  4. Felix, it's frustrating not knowing the exact location of the inner cordon! We can't be sure that it stayed in the same position either - it might have been relocated during the day.

    I can only assume that the tent was erected to give certain individuals more scope to alter the scene at the body. From Dr Hunt's report it's clear that it hadn't been erected when he confirmed death but went up in the ensuing one and a half hours or so. What was Dr Hunt doing at this time?

    Regarding the mounted police ACC Page had already arranged for them to come as a result of his 5.15 meeting. Some of the media photos from later in the day show police officers in nearby fields. I imagine that the police were very keen to stop people from crossing the fields as well as using the public rights of way to get access to the Hill.

  5. Brian, Mr Hunt's online pathologist's report makes it clear that the blue scene tent mysteriously appeared between 12.10 and 14.00 hrs

  6. Felix, I wonder who made the decision to erect that scene tent! We know that Dr Hunt and DCI Young had a discussion fairly soon after they had each arrived at Harrowdown Hill. Was the decision about the tent reached as one result of that chat?

    From the phrasing of Dr Hunt's report I would suggest that the tent went up at some after the confirmation of death at 12.35.