Tuesday, 19 October 2010

DC Coe and the questions unasked by Mr Knox

The second of September 2003 proved to be a useful day at the Hutton Inquiry with a large number of witnesses giving evidence.  Amongst these were the searchers Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman, the ambulance crew Vanessa Hunt and Dave Bartlett and the two policemen who took over from DC Coe, PCs Andrew Franklin and Martyn Sawyer.  Although there are some concerns, particularly regarding timings in some of the evidence which I'll highlight on another occasion, the quality of the interrogation was pretty good, the witnesses were happy just to respond to the questions posed to them rather than trying to set their own agenda and, with each member of the pair being questioned one after the other, it was possible to see their individual stories of events corroborating each other.

Reading these testimonies one of the things that struck me was the consistency of questioning by Lord Hutton's counsel, Mr Dingemans and Mr Knox.  As I have intimated before this is in absolutely stark contrast to the approach adopted by Mr Knox to DC Coe on the morning of the 16th of September following the never explained delay in getting Mr Coe to the stand.  One gets the impression that Mr Coe isn't the easiest of witnesses to question - it seems to me that he is perhaps too keen to get through his evidence even where that means it is very light on detail.  Being somewhat too terse may just be his nature but it was up to Mr Knox to keep hauling him back if he was running away with his answers.  Significantly Mr Knox totally failed to do this.  It is worth going back to my entry "DC Coe and a serious shortage of detail" to read one of the comments left there.  This is the one from Felix timed at 23.24 and it sums up the situation beautifully.

DC Coe is self evidently a key witness.  He says he had a call at 6 o'clock on that Friday morning.  Yet from that moment right up to the point when he bumps into Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman there is nobody corroborating his extremely thin evidence and we have no idea even approximately when he took his various actions.  So far as I can make out his contact with the searchers occurred a few minutes after 9.20 if we can take this time to be when Paul spoke to the police confirming that the body had been found.  We are talking then of a period that morning of about 3 hours 20 minutes in which none of Mr Coe's actions had a time attached to it.  That Mr Knox failed to pin him down on any of this is a quite breathtaking failure.

It isn't just time though.  Mr Coe doesn't volunteer the names of people working with him.  Apart from the single instance of Mr Knox obtaining the name of Mr Shields he, Mr Knox, makes no effort at all in finding out who Mr Coe was with.  We have no idea how many people were making house to house inquiries in Southmoor or what their names were.  Was DC Shields with Mr Coe at this time?  Did they talk to Ruth Absalom together?  He says "We spoke to a witness ..." so evidently he wasn't alone with Ms Absalom.  Perhaps they met her walking her dog, or knocked on her door to find her in - we are not told.  Going back a little in time we aren't told either the name of the person at Abingdon briefing him.  Nor are we informed about how many other officers were at the briefing and whether they were also detailed to make house to house inquiries.  It's very unsatisfactory.

When the decision was made that he and a colleague would make "a sort of search towards the river" did this new action lead to him radioing a senior officer to discuss or inform.  Mr Knox never asked Mr Coe just where he lived, for all we know he might reside in Longworth and be very familiar with the local geography.  Why didn't Mr Knox find out.  It's easy to assume that Mr Coe drove to Common Lane, close to the start of the track that heads up to Harrowdown Hill but we have no confirmation that was the case.  The other witnesses I had earlier mentioned did deliver the information of having parked there but why wasn't Mr Coe posed the same question?

We know that Mr Coe, quite correctly, had his notebook with him at the Hutton Inquiry from the fact that he referred to it late in his evidence.  This was to state that the ambulance crew had pronounced death at 10.07.  Interesting that he noted that because he must have been hovering in the background as the ambulance crew were doing what they had to do; in a sense he was off the case having handed over to PC's Franklin and Sawyer when they appeared.  Did his notebook also record other key times, such as when he spoke to witness Ms Absalom?  Why didn't Mr Knox find out?

Another aspect of interest concerns Saturday 19th July.  From PC Sawyer we gather that on that day he worked with PC Franklin on a very extensive search of the house and grounds where the Kelly's lived.  Mr Knox ascertains the start and finish times as 11.05 and 20.50, evidently a long day.  Mr Sawyer gets asked seven questions in total regarding the search, more in fact because he gets recalled to discuss one aspect in greater detail.  On the same day on the basis of one question and one answer we find out that DC Coe was also overseeing a search and, true to form, Mr Knox doesn't ask about start and finish times.

One final point: the witness immediately following Mr Coe was the forensic pathologist Dr Hunt  who was questioned at some length as one would expect.  Surprisingly Mr Knox was also his inquisitor, rather than Mr Dingemans taking over the reins.  It could be, though I don't believe it, that Mr Knox skipped over his examination of Mr Coe in anticipation of his questioning of Dr Hunt.  At the politest I would describe the fact that these two witnesses were being examined one after the other was very unfortunate.  I've not looked at the media reports of that day's proceedings but would be amazed if the very poor examination of DC Coe got any significant mention, if indeed it was discussed at all.                


  1. Unfortunate (both Coe & Hunt being questioned together)? I'd say it was very fortunate for those wishing to economise on the actualité.
    I am still a bit concerned that after more than two weeks for DC Coe to get his story right,bearing in mind the evidence already available from other witnesses at the death scene,it is his statement which is the most flawed one.

  2. (Two parts again - 4,096 character limit)

    Well, if we start at the top of DC Coe's evidence one can't but fail to notice that Mr Knox did not actually ask him which police force he worked for, far less which department actually employed him.

    MR KNOX: Mr Coe, could you tell the Inquiry your full name?

    DC COE: It is Graham Peter Coe.

    MR KNOX: Your occupation?

    DC COE: I am a police officer.

    MR KNOX: At which station are you stationed?

    DC COE: I am stationed at Wantage in Thames Valley.

    MR KNOX: On Tuesday 18th July in the early morning were you on duty?...

    Fortunately the Mail on Sunday interviewed Mr Coe earlier this year (some time after his retirement) so at least we are now told, even if indirectly, that he was from TVP CID, confirming evidence from others at the Inquiry. (I can't now find the original interview on the Mail website although it is reproduced elsewhere. This was a piece by Matt Sandy dated 8th August 2010, and shouldn't be confused with a similar less-detailed article by Rebecca Camber dated 9th August 2010, which is still available.)

    A lifelong police officer – he joined the Thames Valley Police force in 1972 – DC Coe served for 36 years, 28 as a detective, before retiring in 2008.

    ACC Page gave evidence to Lord Hutton about TVPs overall response that morning:

    MR DINGEMANS: And that further search carried out, did you ask for anything else?

    ACC PAGE: Yes, I did. I asked for a number of key individuals to meet me at Abingdon police station at 5 am.

    MR DINGEMANS: Who were those key individuals?

    ACC PAGE: Those key individuals were a superintendent to arrange resourcing for what I anticipated would be more widespread searching. The head of Special Branch of my organisation.

    MR DINGEMANS: Why did you ask for Special Branch to be involved?

    ACC PAGE: Again because of -- having read the papers I was aware of the circumstances surrounding Dr Kelly.

    MR DINGEMANS: That he was a scientist employed by the Government?

    ACC PAGE: Absolutely; and I was aware that I may have to access Government departments and the easiest way for me to do that is through my own Special Branch.

    MR DINGEMANS: Who else was there at the meeting?

    ACC PAGE: I called out Detective Inspector Smith, who was the area detective inspector, to begin inquiries for me...

    So it is quite likely that DI Smith was the person who briefed DC Coe and those with him. As a member/members of CID he/they wouldn't have been part of the search proper, and would have more likely acted and investigated independently.

    Regarding DC Coe's search, the Sunday Mail reported:

    DC Coe said: ‘We headed towards the river. I just had a gut feeling he may have gone that way. You know . . . he goes missing overnight for no reason at all. ‘You think to yourself, something ain’t going to be right. You get a thought, what’s the nearest thing? The river. We left our unmarked car in Longworth and walked up the bridle path to Harrowdown Hill.’

    Regarding the third officer present:

    DC Coe is now willing to admit the existence of the third man but is unable to provide a plausible explanation for what he told Hutton.

    He says he does not remember giving that evidence. He now claims the third man was a police constable who was still on his initial two-year probation period and had been seconded to the CID unit for a month as part of his training. But he refuses to name the officer and says he is no longer with the force.

  3. (Part 2)

    The following are Rowena Thursby's original questions for Mr Coe:

    - whom did you see at Abingdon police station?

    - who instructed you to make a house to house search?

    - who told you about Ruth Absalom?

    - why were you making a search towards the river?

    - whom were you with at the time?

    To these I would add (at this stage):

    - who specifically initially briefed you at Abingdon?

    - how many briefings did you attend?

    - what were your full instructions from this briefing/these briefings?

    - were other officers or teams of officers similarly briefed and instructed?

    - how many house inquiries did you make?

    - were you the first officer from TVP to speak to Ms Absalom?

    - was this as a direct result of your own door-to-door inquiries?

    - if not, who was the person who directed you to her?

    - did you inform Abingdon about her information after you had received it?

    - were you then requested to directly follow up on her sighting of the previous day?

    - if so, who requested this?

    - did you thereafter go directly to Longworth and specifically to the bridle path leading to Harrowdown Hill?

    - before this, did you attempt to reach the River Thames by any other route?

    - if so did you at any time either speak to or otherwise come into visual contact with some boat people on that river?

    - if not, were you aware or did you later become aware of other officers who did so?

    I think that the answers to these questions would at least fill in a few of the gaps that currently exist in the evidence provided to the Hutton Inquiry. Whether or not they would then provoke even more questions is another question in itself.

  4. Felix, I notice that no explanation was proffered for Mr Coe's failure to attend the Inquiry on 2nd September. Sudden death in family, gone down with flu or tummy bug, having to appear as witness in court case, these excuses might have seemed suspicious but at least acceptable (sort of).

    Andrew, I think Rowena Thursby was one of the earliest people to appreciate just how inadequate the questioning was of Mr Coe. I agree with the additional questions you have posed.