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LEE BALKWELL: Case of mysterious cement mixer death set to return to court after Essex Police misses

THE battle to find out the truth of what happened to a man found dead on a cement mixer in the dead of night nearly 18 years ago may have to return to the High Court after Essex Police failed to respond to a report from one of the country's top forensic pathologists that concluded it was "a murder staged to look like an accident."

Lee Balkwell (pictured above) was found dead with his head and shoulders wedged between the drum and chassis of the cement mixer at just after 1am in July 2002, and it has been treated as a tragic accident by Essex Police ever since.

Last month we exclusively revealed that 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, concluded the accident as described simply could not have happened in an extensive report that was sent to the force.

ALREADY DEAD? Richard Shepherd concluded the accident could not have happened as described

At the time a force spokesman said it was considering the contents of the report.

Essex News and Investigations understands that it intended to commission a peer review of Mr Shepherd's report, involving up to three pathologists led by Dr Benjamin Swift, who had previously concluded that Mr Balkwell could have died in an accident.

Lawyers and a team of ex murder detectives, representing Lee's father, Les Balkwell asked the police to respond to Mr Shepherd's report by this Friday, March 6, however, the force has not met the deadline.

Dave Mckelvey, boss of private detective firm TM-Eye and a former Met Police senior detective who is helping Mr Balkwell, said: "It looks like we will have no choice to go back to the High Court and that the Balkwell family will have to go through the trauma of what that involves."

He also raised concerns that Essex Police was considering getting Mr Swift to review the Shepherd report as he "is not impartial due to being involved in the original investigations complained about."

CAMPAIGN: Dad Les Balkwell has never given up on getting the truth about his son's death

In 2018 Mr Balkwell applied for a High Court judicial review of the Essex Police decision to close the case.

His application asked the court to order the force into getting a completely independent police force to carry out a new murder inquiry into the death.

The application was put on hold pending Mr Shepherd's report.

The case has to be reactivated by March 17, or it will automatically fail.

Mr Balkwell, 72, said: "In my opinion this is more stalling from Essex Police in the hope we miss the deadline and the case collapses."

In his report, Mr Shephed said 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.

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. 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.

SCENE: The cement mixer with Lee Balkwell's leg visible

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." "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. "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."

DECISION: Former detective Dave McKelvey says the case may have to go back to court (BBC)

Essex Police paid Mr Balkwell's family a four figure sum in 2015 after he sued the force over early investigations. Mr Bromley, who has stuck to his account from the outset, has never responded to requests for 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.”

An Essex Police spokeswoman said: “The work to review the report by Dr Richard Shepherd is ongoing and as such we cannot comment any further at this time.”

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