ESSEX Police has been unable to respond to claims from an expert pathologist that it treated a potential murder as an industrial accident.
More than three months ago Essex News and Investigations exclusively revealed how top pathologist Richard Shepherd had concluded in a report that the mysterious death of Lee Balkwell, who was found crushed under a cement mixer (pictured above) nearly 18 years ago, was "a murder staged to look like an accident."
Investigators treated the death of Mr Balkwell as an accident ever since he was found dead with his head and shoulders wedged between the drum and chassis of the mixer at Baldwins Farm, Dennises Lane, South Ockendon, at just after 1am in July 2002, despite claims of foul play from the outset from his father.
Mr 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 in his report 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, who is fighting for the case to be reopened.
REPORT: Richard Shepherd concluded Lee Balkwell was probably murdered
In February Essex Police, which launched a health and safety prosecution 12 years after the death, confirmed it was examining the report.
It told representatives of the Balkwell family it would have a response to the report written by its own expert pathologist peer reviewed by other pathologists before drawing any conclusions on the new claims.
Essex Police later admitted that its expert pathologist, who examined Mr Shepherd's report, was Ben Swift.
He was involved in the Balkwell case and his findings said it was likely Mr Balkwell died in a tragic accident.
Lawyers for TM-Eye have asked for assurances that the pathologists who carry out a "peer review"of Mr Swift's response are not colleagues of his.
Yet, despite being chased several times, more than three months after receiving the report on January 10, the force has failed to confirm this or respond to or dispute Mr Shepherd's conclusions, which contrast starkly with its own previous findings.
KILLED: Lee Balkwell was just 33-years-old when he died
A High Court bid by Mr Balkwell, launched in 2018 in a bid to force the police to reopen the case, has been put on hold due to Essex Police's failure to respond.
In February an email from force solicitor Adam Hunt to lawyers for TM-Eye confirmed that Mr Swift was the expert, but he would not say which pathologists would do the peer review.
The last response from Mr Hunt was received on March 26 and blamed coronavirus for the delays.
He wrote: "A substantive response to your expert's report will be provided as soon as possible but I am conscious that the police service is under huge pressure in light of the current pandemic."
The lawyers wrote back to the force on April 28, saying: "We are mindful that Essex Police has been in possession of Dr Shepherd’s report since January 10 2020 and that a response to our request for information and/or provision of the report itself is outstanding."
CAMPAIGN: Les Balkwell has fought for the truth about his son's death for nearly 18 years
The letter warned court action to force the police to respond to the report would follow.
It added: "In the event the requested information and/or report is not forthcoming, we regret that we will be left with no alternative than to issue a pre-action protocol letter before action for the commencement of separate judicial review proceedings against the Chief Constable of Essex Police for a mandatory order for completion by Essex Police of the peer review of Dr Swift’s report within a time frame ordered by the court.
"We grow increasingly concerned by the ongoing delay in this matter and we are unable to allow it to continue indefinitely."
Essex Police did not respond to a request for a comment.