Essex

Lee Balkwell cement mixer death: Police probe 'flawed'

Police made crucial mistakes in a "seriously flawed" investigation into the death of a man found in the mechanism of a cement mixer lorry, a highly-critical report has revealed.

Lee Balkwell, 33, died from multiple injuries at a farm in Upminster, Essex, on 18 July 2002.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report found eight senior officers made 25 errors.

Essex Police said three officers would receive a "formal debrief".

"It is clear that there were failings during the course of the investigation and subsequent reviews," said a police spokesman.

"Deputy Chief Constable Derek Benson has sent a letter of apology to Lee's father Les Balkwell and Lee's partner Lorraine Mitchinson for the failings."

Les Balkwell believes his son was murdered and that his death was "staged" to make it appear an accident.

He said he was satisfied with the report's findings but wanted a murder inquiry to be opened.

But the IPCC report said it had not found any evidence of a crime or anything to back up Mr Balkwell's claims of corruption.

An inquest in 2008 returned a verdict of unlawful killing through gross negligence.

Investigation failures

Police said the majority of mistakes concerned the "initial investigation" and added improvements had been made since.

The spokesman said three officers would be subject to a formal debrief with the force's deputy chief constable.

Mr Balkwell said the number of mistakes "beggars belief".

Image caption Retired haulage firm owner Les Balkwell believes his son was murdered and his death staged

The IPCC, which investigated 92 complaints made by Mr Balkwell, found 19 were substantiated against at least one officer. Of the 19 complaints, 11 were fully substantiated and eight partially substantiated.

The report found police failed to secure potential evidence, missed chances to interview witnesses and did not treat the death with an "open mind".

Routine lines of inquiry were not pursued and "key actions" expected in a "thorough and comprehensive investigation" were not carried out.

The probe was also brought to an "extremely swift conclusion", IPCC investigators said.

Police failed to check the background of potential suspects and a file presented to prosecutors contained a "paucity" of evidence.

Drilling set concrete

IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: "We found that Mr Balkwell's belief that the original investigation into Lee Balkwell's death was inadequate was well-founded.

"In our view, it was seriously flawed. From the outset, it was mired in assumption that what happened to Lee Balkwell was a tragic accident."

The IPCC upheld complaints against eight senior-ranked officers, including a detective inspector, three chief superintendents and a chief inspector.

Image caption Lee Balkwell had been drilling out concrete from the drum of the mixer

Retired haulage firm boss Mr Balkwell, 65, from Hornchurch, Essex, said: "To say that this investigation was seriously flawed is an understatement.

"It beggars belief that so many mistakes could have been made by so many senior officers."

Two police reviews into the investigation have taken place and, in February 2008, the case was referred to the IPCC.

Police are now reviewing the inquiry to decide whether it should be reopened.

Lee had been drilling set concrete from the drum of the cement mixer lorry on the evening before his death.

Post-mortem tests showed that the lorry driver died from injuries consistent with being drawn into moving parts of the mixer.

'Tragic accident'

David Bromley, who was at the Upminster Concrete Ltd site on the night of the death, rejected any claim an accident had been "staged".

He said there was no suggestion that either he or his son, Simon, who had been working with Lee, were involved in the death.

He described Lee as a "good worker" and a "big loss to us all".

"Everybody liked him," said Mr Bromley. "It was just a tragic accident. I keep saying. That's God's truth."

For more on this story see BBC Inside Out East and iPlayer on Monday at 19:30 GMT.

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