CCTV suggests death fall Mark Blanco probably 'dropped'

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Media caption,

BBC Newsnight has been examining the case over the last eight months

Forensic experts in the US and UK say preliminary analysis of CCTV footage of the death of actor Mark Blanco suggests he was probably dropped to his death.

Blanco suffered fatal head injuries when he fell from a balcony in 2006.

He had been at a party in a flat one floor above the first floor balcony with rock star Pete Doherty and others.

The experts say initial examination of the images is consistent with someone being carried and dropped over the balcony edge, not jumping or slipping.

A coroner categorically ruled out suicide, but three police investigations have failed to find out what really did happen.

BBC Newsnight has been examining the case over the past eight months after the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual.

All six people who were at the gathering in Whitechapel, London, in December 2006 say they have no knowledge of how Blanco died and were in the flat above at the time he fell.

Blanco had arrived at the home of Paul Roundhill, a man well-known for his involvement with hard drugs, just after midnight. He was described as being in a buoyant mood and had been drinking.

Moments later Mr Doherty arrived with a girlfriend. Once inside he was seized on by Blanco, who witnesses say was badgering the musician to attend a play he was in. A witness told Newsnight that because he was drunk, Blanco's insistence "came across as quite aggressive".

Mr Doherty appealed to his minder, Johnny Jeannevol, known as Johnny Headlock, and to Mr Roundhill to come to his aid.

Mr Roundhill says that he tried to distract Blanco by setting light to his tweed cap, which was resting on a table, before he and Mr Jeannevol forcibly ejected him from the flat, with Mr Roundhill punching Blanco several times.

CCTV footage shows Blanco outside the building less than 15 minutes after he had first arrived. He walks away, but then has second thoughts and can be seen going back inside the building.

Headfirst fall

Fifty-seven seconds later he can be seen falling headfirst from the 4m-high (14ft) communal balcony. He died the next day in hospital from severe head injuries.

The people in Mr Roundhill's flat all say they were unaware Blanco had returned to the building.

Twelve minutes after Blanco fell, the CCTV footage shows Mr Doherty and two friends emerging from the building, examining Blanco, who was lying on the ground, then running away.

Image caption,
Pete Doherty denies any involvement with Mark Blanco's death

In an interview with NME magazine, Mr Doherty has said that he is "completely ashamed" of having left the scene, but that he is not to blame for Blanco's death.

Mr Doherty's minder, Johnny "Headlock" Jeannevol, once confessed that he had killed Mark Blanco, but then retracted saying he had been under stress.

"The reason why I said to the police that I did it is 'cos I'd go out and people would say 'you murderer', and the stress was just too much," Mr Jeannevol told Newsnight, adding that his "conscience is clear".

After being told to reinvestigate Blanco's death by the coroner, the police eventually reported that in the absence of forensic evidence and given the poor quality of the CCTV images it was unlikely they would ever discover what really happened.

But Newsnight has consulted two leading video forensics experts in Britain and the United States who say that there was more captured on camera than meets the untrained eye.

New investigation call

Grant Fredericks, a leading US video forensics analyst who teaches at the FBI National Academy, says the images of Blanco coming off the balcony are "very consistent with a person being carried and literally dropped over the edge of the balcony".

John Kennedy, who has given video forensics testimony in scores of cases in the UK and overseas, says of Mr Blanco's fall: "There's no defensive movement whatsoever. It's literally a drop from outside the rail.

"The only explanation I can think of is that somebody might have dropped him off the balcony. He doesn't climb over the railing himself. He doesn't jump. He just suddenly appears outside the railing and falls."

The suggestion of no defensive injuries - consistent with unconsciousness - is in line with a bio-mechanics investigation and a neurobiologist's report, both commissioned by Sheila Blanco, Mark Blanco's mother.

Sheila Blanco says she has been unhappy with the police investigation since they failed to adequately cordon off the scene in Whitechapel following the incident. When she arrived the next day she found the lens of Blanco's glasses lying in the gutter.

She and her lawyer are now to press the police to reopen the investigation. "I think the whole case needs revisiting," she says. "The truth will out."

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