MYSTERIOUS: Lee's body was found trapped in the mixer after 1am (Family pic)
BRITAIN'S top forensic pathologist has suggested a man found dead wedged in a cement mixer 17 years ago today may not have died in an accident.
Home Office pathologist Richard Shepherd, who worked on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and the death of Princess Diana, has been examining the circumstances surrounding the death of Lee Balkwell, 33, who was found wedged between the chassis and drum of a cement mixer at just after 1am on July 18 2002 at a premises linked to organised crime.
Essex Police, which investigated the unusual death, has always treated it as an industrial accident, despite it being rapped for major failings over its investigations and serious question marks remaining over the case.
SCENE: Lee Balkwell was trapped under this cement mixer 17 years ago (Essex Police)
Lee died at Baldwin's Farm in Dennises Lane, South Ockendon, Essex, a site with homes and industrial units owned by the Bromley family.
Simon Bromley, who ran a concrete business from the site at the time, has always insisted that the pair were drilling out dried cement from inside the mixer long into the night when a tragic accident happened as he tried to move the drum a few inches with Lee inside.
He claims it rotated at full speed at a point when Lee must have been trying to climb out of a small inspection hatch, trapping him.
Mr Bromley was convicted of a health and safety offence of failing to ensure Lee's safety and fined in 2014.
VERDICT: Pathologist Richard Shepherd believes the scene could have been staged (BBC)
Now, Mr Shepherd has said the evidence points to it not being an accident and the scene being staged to look like one, according to a team of retired Met Police detectives investigating the case.
Dave McKelvey, boss of private detective agency TM-Eye, said: "The local force refuses to comply with the recommendation in 2012 of the police watchdog - which found the initial investigation to be “seriously flawed” - and open an independent homicide investigation.
"Last year, Essex police formally closed its investigation despite receiving fresh evidence indicating murder from a our team of retired homicide detectives and a former police forensic scientist.
"Further evidence had since been obtained from leading forensic pathologist Prof Richard Shepherd who agrees the evidence points to Lee’s death not being an accident and that the crime scene was staged to make it look like one."
DETERMINED: Les Balkwell wants the truth about his son's death 17 years ago (BBC)
Lee's father Les Balkwell, 72, is bringing legal action to try to force Essex Police to reopen the case and get an independent police force to launch a murder investigation into the death.
He is now crowdfunding to raise the money for the legal costs.
Les said: "I have fought for seventeen years to bring justice to those responsible. This has taken a terrible toll on the physical and mental health of me and my family.
"I feel that time is running out. Essex police have made me drag them through the courts to get disclosure. Their conduct just adds layer after layer of agony.
"They clearly want the case to go away; for me to give up, but I wont and need your help for a full homicide investigation to take place. I need justice for Lee.”
FAILURES: Kirsty Brimelow says Essex Police should pass the case to another force (BBC)
Kirsty Brimelow QC, who with Alex Gask , both of Doughty Street chambers, represent the family, said: “Essex police eventually accepted that it failed to comply with its duty to investigate Lee’s death and issued an apology for the anguish that it has caused the Balkwell family. It would be a true reflection of its apology if Essex police were to refer this case to another force for investigation.”
Mr McKelvey added: “My team of highly experienced retired homicide detectives working for the Balkwell family since 2016 are convinced that Lee’s death was not an industrial accident but clearly staged.
"To suggest otherwise is perverse and raises questions about the motives of those involved in the initial investigation. It is deeply disappointing that Essex and their sister force Kent have ignored new credible evidence and refused us access to exhibits and evidence that would allow us to get to the truth.”
Mr Bromley denies any foul play was involved in Lee's death, which he maintains was an accident.