Thursday, 16 June 2011

The invisible police officers of Harrowdown Hill

Reading the testimonies of PCs Franklin and Sawyer at the Hutton inquiry you could be readily forgiven for thinking that the morning of 18th July 2003 was very quiet at Harrowdown Hill.  Buzzing with activity?  No, not if you believe what the two PCs said on the 2nd September.  PC Franklin was examined by Mr Dingemans, PC Sawyer by Mr Knox.

PC Franklin first:

Q. How many are in your team?
A. I was given a search team leader, which is PC Sawyer, and 6 other officers, when we received a call that a body had been found at Harrowdown Hill.
Q. Do you know how many other people were out searching at this time?
A. I believe it was only the two volunteers out searching at that time. The parameters for our search and the logistics of calling our teams in does take a bit of time. So PC Sawyer and I were going to be the first team out on the ground.
Q. We have heard evidence about a helicopter out searching the night before. Had you heard about that?

A. No.
Q. After you get that information, where did you go?
A. PC Sawyer and I attended Harrowdown Hill and went to the scene. We were unsure initially whereabouts we were going, but we passed Paul from the South East Berks Volunteers and he directed us to two uniformed police officers and DC Coe. 

Q. The South East Berks Volunteers, what are they?
A. They are SEBEVs. South East Berks Volunteers. They are an organisation we use regularly for missing person searches.
Q. To help?
A. To help us. They are a highly professional and motivated organisation.
Q. You mentioned DC Coe. Was he part of your search team?

A. No.
Q. What he was he doing?

A. He was at the scene. I had no idea what he was doing there or why he was there. He was just at the scene when PC Sawyer and I arrived.
Q. Who was in charge of the scene at this time?
A. DC Coe was until I turned up and then I took charge of the scene.

Now PC Sawyer:

We are just about to leave to perform our first searches, which would have been in the village and the surrounding areas of the route he was thought to have taken, when information came in that a body had been found. I then left with Police Constable Franklin to attend the scene.
Q. Can you remember what time it was that that information came in?
A. It would have been about 9 o'clock, I believe.
Q. So you then leave with Police Constable Franklin?
A. Yes.
Q. And anyone else?

A. We had three other officers in the back who we took from the search team to act as the cordons, because obviously we do not want members of the public or members of the press approaching the scene until it has been obviously searched and declared sterile.
Q. And where did you then go?
A. We then went to the track that leads up to Harrowdown Hill, I do not know the name of the track, but when we arrived we saw a vehicle parked which belonged to Louise. We started walking up the track. We also had with us two paramedics who had arrived, which we took up with us to make sure that the person we were going to see did not require any medical assistance.
Q. Those two paramedics had obviously arrived separately from you?
A. They had arrived more or less at the same time we did. So the five of us went up because we were with Sergeant Alan Dadd as well.
Q. Where did you stop the cars?
A. Stopped the cars -- I believe it at is the top, I have not seen the map but I believe it is at the top of Common Lane. Then we turned left and right up to the track which leads up to Harrowdown Hill.
Q. You go along the track, where do you then go to?
A. We met Paul from SEBEV walking down the hill.
Q. Paul Chapman?
A. He told us basically the body was further up in the woods. We continued walking up the hill, where I saw DC Coe and two uniformed officers.

From the interview with DC Coe in the Mail on Sunday on 8 August 2010 we know that DC Coe and his companions left their unmarked car in Longworth and walked upIn summary then the two PCs with their 3 "cordons" arrive at the bottom of the lane at about the same time as the ambulance crew.  This is at 9.55 according to Dave Bartlett's evidence.  Sergeant Dadd is also there but whether he comes in his own car or the police land rover isn't clear.  The car owned by Louise Holmes is spotted although she and Brock are not.

PCs Franklin and Sawyer believe that they are the first team out on the ground, apart from the volunteer searchers.  PC Franklin seems bemused by the presence of DC Coe and says that he 'had no idea what he was doing there'.  However he doesn't seem surprised by the presence of an outer cordon (established nearly half an hour before at 9.28) I presume because he doesn't mention it.

There is an interesting contrast in testimonies between the PCs and the ambulance crew (arriving at almost identical times we are told).  This from Vanessa Hunt at the inquiry:

Q. When you arrived on the scene was anyone there?
A. Yes, there were a number of police officers.
Q. Do you remember how many?
A. Just lots and there was police vehicles there as well.
Q. Did you drive off the public road?
A. We parked up at the end of the public road, I do not know the name of the road.
Q. And you proceeded on foot?
A. Yes. 

Q. Who had met you?
A. There was an officer in regulation clothing who directed us to two or three other officers in combat trousers and black polo shirts and we followed them along the track.

Dave Bartlett's response when questioned:

Q. What happened when you arrived? 
A. We parked at the end of the lane where there were some cars already parked, a lot of police officers there. We asked one police officer who directed us to the police that were in the combat uniforms and they asked us to bring some equipment and follow them down into the woods. 

A report in The Observer of 12 December 2004 has the two ambulance crew speaking out about their concerns after the Hutton Inquiry.  Vanessa Hunt again:

When they arrived at the woods 15 minutes later it was immediately clear that this was not a run-of-the-mill incident. 'There were a lot of police around,' said Hunt. 'Some were in civilian clothes and others in black jackets and army fatigues. I thought it might have been a firearms incident as there were the guys from the special armed response units.' 

The contrast between the testimonies at Hutton could hardly have been more marked.  Surely the police presence noted by the paramedics must have been seen by PCs Franklin and Sawyer.



  1. One does wonder what actually Dc Coe was doing upto about 9.40am. His evidence to the Hutton Inquiry which contained a serious "memory lapse" may have had other inconsistencies. It is not clear whether he was already on duty at 6am or whether he did go to Abingdon Police station , or direct to Longworth (Harrowdown Hill) or indeed to straight to Southmoor.

    What was he upto in those 3 or more hours?

    I am not inclined to believe any of the witness account by Mrs Absalom. It is leading us all up the garden path.

    No wonder none of this seems capable of going under oath.

  2. Felix, that's the problem - we have no idea whether DC Coe's testimony for the early part of the 18th is correct or not!

    I would like to see what was written in his notebook between 06.00 and 09.40.

    Whatever else might have been omitted in his police witness statement I would have thought it essential at a minimum to state that he had spoken to a named witness (Ruth Absalom), the time he did this and the content of the conversation.

  3. I'd like to know what DC Coe was doing after he handed the scene over to Franklin, Sawyer and Dadd.

    He told the Hutton inquiry that he left the area of the scene after the ambulance crew left, having no more involvement.

    A recent FOI request reveals that DC Coe was booked out of the outer cordon at 11.47am, the ambulance crew were logged out at 10.26am.

    The same FOI response reveals that DC Shields and the mysterious 3rd did not enter the outer cordon.

  4. And who was holding the fort until DCI Young showed up? (or indeed had been holding it prior to 11.47?)
    The outer cordon is described as the edge of the wood or copse by Dr Hunt.
    "Yes. Initially I was taken to the outer cordon at the edge of the copse or the woods where Dr Kelly's body was found."

    The implication is that anyone within the outer cordon would appear to be in the woods or just beside it eg. in the white tent, the time of erection of which is not disclosed. It would seem from Hunt's evidence that it is NOT at the start of the track in Longworth, shown in newsreel footage being guarded by police officers.

    Perhaps DC Coe was putting the tent up.

  5. Brian, according to your timeline
    Outer Cordon set up at 09.28
    Paul Chapman,searcher leaves outer cordon at 10.01.

    The phone call from Abingdon police station is clearly to lure the searchers away from the wood before Paul Chapman returns with Coe and Co. There is no reason whatsoever to walk back to Longworth, as if arriving Police couldn't find the wood themselves.

    "Q. Did you need to give anything to the police?
    A. All they did was take a copy of the soles of my boots".
    (Paul Holmes)
    Apparently this was to DC Coe and two others! How? They are not SOCO, are they?

    "Once we had shown them where the body was, we returned to the car." (Paul Holmes again)

    "We walked back up the hill with the three of them" (Paul Holmes)

    So who are we going back up the hill with the three police?? Louise Holmes did not return.

    "Did you then go back to the scene at all?
    A. No."
    (Louise Holmes)

    And who are we returning to the cars,i.e. who else was logged out of the outer cordon at 10.01?

  6. LL, the fact that DC Coe wasn't logged out of the outer cordon until 12.47 is very interesting!

    It's odd that Thames Valley police officers are so reticent about what was happening at Harrowdown Hill from the time the ambulance crew start going back down the track until Dr Hunt arrives just after midday.

    What we do know is that PCs Franklin and Sawyer bring their land rover up and thus obscure any other marks that are on the track, they make a cursory search in the area of the common approach path, someone receives a film from the helicopter, a scene video is made and someone in the parking area at the bottom of the track holds the ambulance crew for an hour under a communications blackout. According to a press report the paramedics had to wait the arrival of a machine to take impressions of the soles of their boots but why that couldn't be done at Abingdon police Station isn't explained.

  7. Felix@17.38
    There is a contradiction between Dr Hunt's testimony at the Inquiry (that you have correctly quoted)and what he says in his report. In the latter, after mentioning being logged in at the outer cordon (position of same not described), he says 'I approached the inner cordon via a farm track and field.'

    I believe that the "farm track" is the track up to Harrowdown Hill from the original parking area and that the field referred to is the field with the white tent.

    At the Inquiry I suspect he meant to say 'inner cordon' rather than 'outer cordon'.

    It could be, as events developed during the day, that the outer cordon was moved or an outer outer cordon put in place. Certainly a media picture of the time with a police officer either side of the road seems to me to be further back down the made up road towards Longworth.

  8. Felix@17.38
    Reference 'who was holding the fort' I think that it is DI Ashleigh Smith because in his report Dr Hunt states that he is one of the three people to meet him on arrival, the other two being SOCOs.

  9. Felix@19.01
    Where you have referred to Paul Holmes I think that you intended to write 'Paul Chapman'.

    I don't think it's said who took the impressions of the soles of the footwear worn by the searchers.

    Paul Chapman staying up by the wood with Louise Holmes returning to the car with Brock seems to me to be more sensible unless something untoward was going on.

    I'll have to think about the use of the word 'we' (not a royal 'we') after apparently Ms Holmes has returned to her car.

  10. Thanks Brian for the corrections. It seems reasonable that Dr Hunt drove up the bridleway to Harrowdown Hill. I have no idea how the site was kept intact from either the Thames Side Farm track or indeed the river towpath.

    Certainly the Thames Valley Police would be easily able to confirm if Dr Hunt were mistakenly describing the outer cordon when he meant the inner one.
    One now wonders when DI Ashley Smith arrives at the cordons. This absolutely fascinating 2011 article implies he has retired or is near retirement after reaching the rank of Detective Superintendent.

    DI Smith was at ACC Page's 05.15 hrs meeting. Where does he go after that, until mid-day? It is not known.
    " I called out Detective Inspector Smith, who was the area detective inspector, to begin inquiries for me. And myself and the area commander.."
    Whoops, ACC Page didn't mean to mention the commander, because he quickly corrects himself. I take it he is referring to Katherine Govier.
    If Paul exits the outer cordon at 10.01, and SOCO have had the soles of the shoes examined on site, that means that SOCO were already present before 10.01.

  11. I decided to have a look at what Roy Green had to say about who was there when he arrived (AG's released documents) and was surprised to learn that his 2003 statement is printed on a witness form governed by Criminal Procedure Rules 2005, the form dated 2006/07.

    I suppose the text of the statement could have been printed onto a new form format in 2007 onwards but it is a bit rum to say the least. The same is true for Allan's 3 statements.

    Anyway the statement is brimmed with useful information
    Water Bottle nearly empty
    Blood stain just below right knee is over 3 inches in diameter and is matched by a similar size one on the left leg of the jeans, a bit lower but that bloodstain is diluted
    Belt pouch (empty) has blood stains on the inside indicating it was opened after the injury occurred
    Blood stains on inside of heels of boots and socks, one is a directional blood stain on the right heel travelling from the right of the boot.
    Rabbit hairs on the knife
    The inside of the cap was heavily blood stained
    Lying on his back in the undergrowth of nettles and brambles
    Cap covering vomit stain, other vomit stain on upper back of jacket not analysed.
    Contact blood stains on seat of jeans.

    There is more but I started getting a bit dizzy.

  12. LL, yes Mr Green's statement is pretty meaty! I'm not getting too involved in it just now though but maybe Andrew will analyse it in due course.

    I suspect that the bloodstains were mainly quite light because others didn't pick up on them. An exception though is the contact stain on the right knee of the jeans, much bigger in area as seen by Mr Green compared with the ambulance crew's report on it. That might justify a post soon.

  13. LancashreLad @17 June 15.40 had made the interesting comment via an FOI request that DC Coe didn't get logged out of the outer cordon till 11.47. In my 21.25 response I misquoted this time calling it 12.47.

    Apologies for that!

    DC Coe remained at the scene then for another 1 hour 40 minutes after the ambulance crew had confirmed death. I wonder if he spotted the presence of the helicopter.

  14. To whom did the helicopter pilot or crew give their Truprint envelope, with 35mm film ready for posting off to the developers?
    One does wonder in which way an aerial video of Oxfordshire countryside might have assisted Dr Hunt in examining a body lurking beneath the tree canopy of a wood.

    "The information [of a helicopter landing] was not withheld from the Hutton Inquiry. It is of no relevance to the matter being inquired into."

    i.e. Don't look here.

  15. I have no doubt that the helicopter did take aerial photos of the area around the wood, and in the light of what had occurred in last the 12hours that was probably a good idea.
    As I said in an earlier comment there was a real risk that incriminating evidence could have been left lying in the long grass or the tall crops around the perimeter of the wood and north of the wood down the track towards the river.
    An aerial view was the best way to check this out and it would have made good sense to give the photos to someone on the ground so any tidying up of the murder scene could be done discretely.
    It would therefore be nice to know who took custody of the photos as this person was obviously working for the security services.
    And of course it would have been a very convenient opportunity to collect any photos that the officers on the ground may have taken of the body.

  16. Frank, I would have thought that the camera on the helicopter woud be able to transmit its photos to police HQs or command suites without landing. More primitive methods of photography would be in use on the ground. I wonder if these aerial photos showed any moored boats?

  17. Felix,
    I am sure the camera on the helicopter was able to transmit its photos to police HQs or command suites without landing, but are we sure that is where the persons who commissioned this flight wanted the pictures to end up?

  18. Hunt's PM report at the AG's site now has names un-redacted

  19. LL, yes it demonstrates just how ludicrous it was to redact some names (but not all) in Dr Hunt's report when it first went on line.

  20. Brian,
    The unredacted names were those which had already been revealed at the Hutton Inquiry. The redaction was done on a need-to-know basis.

  21. Brian, I have just noticed that my own digital camera shows an error of 38 minutes between real time and the internal clock. If the photos images and their timings became available, one would need some sort of cross referencing for calibration. On does wonder whether any of the police evidence timing relies on digital imaging with an incorrect internal clock? (Andrew Gilligan's, of course, on his Palm pilot had gone awry by, conviently, one whole day!)