POLICE are examining a report from one of the country's top forensic pathologists that has concluded that the mysterious death of a man said to have been working in a cement mixer in the dead of night nearly 18 years ago was "a murder staged to look like an accident."
Investigators treated the death of Lee Balkwell (pictured above) as an accident ever since he was found dead with his head and shoulders wedged between the drum and chassis of a cement mixer at just after 1am in July 2002, despite claims of foul play from his father.
Now senior pathologist Richard Shepherd, who has worked on high profile cases including 9/11, the 7/7 bombings, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and the deaths of Princess Diana and Stephen Lawrence, has concluded the accident as described simply could not have happened.
He believes Mr Balkwell, 33, was likely to have been dead when his head was placed into a small inspection hatch while the drum was rotated to crush him.
The report was commissioned by private detective agency TM-Eye on behalf of Lee's father Les Balkwell, 72.
ALREADY DEAD? Richard Shepherd concluded the accident could not have happened as described
It has been sent to Essex Police who has been asked by Mr Balkwell's lawyers to get a fully independent police force to open a new murder inquiry.
Simon Bromley, 50, Lee's employer at the time, has consistently maintained the pair were each using kango drills and spades to break and remove dried cement from inside the drum.
He said in interview they wore gloves and dust masks and worked with an electric light.
Mr Bromley says it was while he left Lee inside the drum, so he could slowly revolve it a bit to reach more cement, that it malfunctioned, turning more quickly than expected and Lee was either ejected from the hatch at that point, or had been inadvertently trying to climb out of it.
Police and health and safety officials, who attended the scene at Baldwins Farm industrial area in South Ockendon, Essex, investigated it as such an accident.
SCENE: The cement mixer with Lee Balkwell's leg visible
Due to botched police inquiries it took 12 years to come to court, when, in 2014 Mr Bromley was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter, but convicted of the health and safety offence of failing, as an employer, to ensure Lee's safety.
Mr Shepherd wrote: "I note that despite the reported use of hammer drills, shovels and possibly lights inside the drum, by both Simon Bromley and Lee Balkwell, none were present inside the drum.
"No gloves were present on Lee Balkwell's hands... no masks were seen on his body, in the drum or in or around the lorry."
He concluded that, because Mr Balkwell was decapitated inside his skin, due to the major arteries involved there would have been a huge amount of blood at the scene if he was alive at the time.
He wrote: "None of the examinations of the scene showed any evidence of significant blood loss. No blood drop, spray or splash is seen in any of the photographs of the scene around, or beneath, the lorry."
CAMPAIGN: Dad Les Balkwell has never given up on getting the truth about his son's death
In my opinion the severe injuries to the neck combined with the complete lack of any blood loss on or around the lorry is entirely consistent with Lee Balkwell being dead at the time that the neck injuries were inflicted."
Only Lee's neck and shoulders were crushed, yet his back was covered in red marks and grazing and there were multiple face fractures.
Mr Shepherd said parallel marks on the back were consistent with blows from a linear object such as a police or piece of wood.
He added: "I am also struck by the extent of facial injuries with evidence of deep bruising in the left frontal region of the scalp. I also note Dr Heath describes blood flow in the airways.
"This pattern of injuries is consistent with repeated blows to the face from fists."
Mr Shepherd believes he was beaten to death then dragged, causing more scrapes to the back, and placed in the mixer by "more than one person."
He said: "I must conclude that the death of Lee Balkwell must be considered to be very highly suspicious and that there is very strong evidence of staging of the scene in an attempt to make Lee's death appear to be an accident."
Essex Police paid Mr Balkwell's family a four figure sum in 2015 after he sued the force over early investigations.
A new High Court bid was launched in 2018 in a bid to force the police to reopen the case, but this was on hold while Mr Shepherd prepared his report.
An Essex Police spokeswoman said: "We have received a report by consultant forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd via Mr Balkwell’s solicitors.
"We can confirm we will be examining the content of the report but due to ongoing legal proceedings calling for a judicial review we will not be commenting any further at this time."
Mr Bromley, who has stuck to his account from the outset, did not respond to request for a comment.
Early investigators never pinned down Mr Bromley about the position of the equipment, but in a statement he made ahead of the inquest, he said he could not remember how the equipment ended up where it was.
He has never given an interview about the death, but in 2012, after Mr Balkwell held a press conference making claims of foul play his dad, Simon Bromley, 72, said he was sick of insinuations of murder.
He said at the time: "This was a terrible, tragic accident.
“Lee was like one of the family. He was a great loss. Simon felt terribly guilty. It made him ill. He would cry his eyes out about it. He said he wished it had been him and not Lee who died.”