WHY SO LONG? Balkwell JR application went before judge after Essex News & Investigations intervened
THE mysterious death of a man found wedged under a cement mixer in the dead of night could be reinvestigated after his grieving dad won the right for a judicial review of a police decision to close the case.
But, bizarrely, the application made by Les Balkwell (above), on behalf of deceased son Lee, only landed on a judge's lap after a three year wait after Essex News & Investigations pressed the court about the delay.
Lee, 33, was found dead between the chassis and drum of the vehicle at just after 1am on July 18 2002.
Essex Police treated the death as an industrial accident and the investigation resulted in a failed manslaughter prosecution in 2014.
Les Balkwell, 74, Lee's father, has fought for the death to be treated as a murder after he was allegedly contacted by police whistle blowers.
A team of former murder detectives investigated the case and pathologist Richard Shepherd concluded a lack of blood at the scene suggested Lee was dead before the drum of the mixer decapitated him inside his neck skin.
He also concluded that the scene may have been staged to look like an accident.
Mr Shepherd (above's) report was the basis of a July 2018 application for a judicial review of Essex Police's decision to close the case.
Mr Balkwell hopes a High Court judge will order the force to pass the case to an independent police force to investigate it as a murder.
After assessing the papers, Judge Mr Justice Ian Dove last month said there was an "arguable case" for a full judicial review to proceed. Mr Balkwell said: "This has been a 19-year battle to find out the truth and three years after making the application I am pleased this will now all be aired in court. "While I have still got breath in my body, I will keep fighting to find out what really happened to Lee." The former Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) upheld several complaints from Mr Balkwell, about the initial investigation which it found ruled out foul play too quickly and failed to secure the scene and and follow all forensic evidence opportunities.
An Essex Police spokesman said: "The death of Lee Balkwell remains classed by Essex Police as an unsolved homicide as a result of his father’s belief he was murdered. "Due to ongoing legal proceedings it would be inappropriate to comment further." The case went before Mr Justice Dove after Essex News and Investigations intervened to find out why the application had not been determined since it was lodged by Mr Balkwell in July 2018. We discovered that applications for judicial review should be heard by the High Court within three months of being submitted.
So the decision on whether the judicial review could procced should have been taken by October 2018, but this never happened.
It is not known what happened with the application or why for the next 19 months, but the court said the it was then stayed for three months in May 2020 until August 2020, to allow Essex Police to respond to Mr Shepherd's report. This did not explain why the case was not heard in 2018. It also meant the application should still have been dealt with by the end of November 2020. Essex News and Investigations asked the High Court why it had still not been heard and was told "It's waiting to be allocated to a judge." So, we asked the court who the people were who were responsible for allocating cases to judges and who they were "accountable to." We didn't get any answers to questions about who was responsible or their accountability, but soon after did get informed that the case landed on Mr Dove' lap for a decision towards the end of July.
When pressed for a reason for the delays, a High Court official accepted there had been a fault and vowed to take action to prevent it happening again.
She said: "There was a delay caused by the list office. This was an administrative oversight. "This has been raised with the senior legal managers who have discussed this with the relevant team leaders to avoid this happening again."