Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Search timeline Friday 18 July 2003 (up to 9.20)

Following the format I have previously adopted I should be writing individual entries looking at the evidence at Hutton provided by PCs Franklin and Sawyer and by the ambulance crew Vanessa Hunt and David Bartlett.  It will be easier now though I believe to deal with certain themes that might relate to all of them and in some instances to the content of earlier witness statements which I have already sketched.  I want to try and sort out the witness evidence concerning timings from early on Friday 18th July up to the point Dr Kelly was officially pronounced dead.  As we shall see there are one or two anomalies in reported times but I'm still hopeful that some sort of sensible timeline can be deduced for those few hours.

Looking at the evidence from Assistant Chief Constable Michael Page we see that Mr Dingemans asks him about the time that he heard about the two searchers having found Dr Kelly's body to which the ACC replies: "I think within seconds of the information coming in to us but the time I have is that it was 9.20."  This is what I would call the pivotal time in as much that I believe that the timings of events just before and just after have to fit in with this.  I also think of 10.07 (47 minutes later) as the "end time" for this part of the drama because this is the declared time we are told that the ambulance crew confirmed that Dr Kelly was dead.

A quick comment about the time of 10.07.  The ambulance crew explained that they had connected a heart monitor to Dr Kelly and that the flat lines on the print out they obtained proved that life was extinct.  The print out states the time but we are told this is not normally correct being typically an hour out and so the medics add the correct time via looking at their watches (perhaps it has to be corrected for BST).  After this process was completed they handed these strips to the police.  At the Inquiry the two ambulance crew were unable to say exactly what this time was and so far as I can see it was two policemen who volunteered this information.  One of these was PC Franklin and the other, as I had mentioned previously, was DC Coe.  At one stage in his questioning DC Coe looked at his notebook and confirmed the 10.07 timing so whether at Harrowdown Hill or perhaps back in the office had seen the strips and recorded the time one assumes.

Paul Chapman states that he "got an official page soon after 5 o'clock".  The ACC described how he had arranged a meeting of key individuals to arrange resourcing for what he anticipated would be more widespread searching.  Although scheduled for 5 am at Abingdon police station Mr Page thought the meeting started at about 5.15 am.  Bearing in mind that Paul is more likely to have been paged by his search manager than the police my feeling is that the decision to call out the search volunteers may well have been enacted some time prior to Mr Page's 5.15 meeting.  Paul then goes on to say he had a further text message (we don't know the time) confirming the call out to which he replied to say he was available.  For the next piece of timing it's over to Louise Holmes who says she arrived at Abingdon police station "around quarter past/half past seven".  Back to Paul now who states that after they had been briefed the journey out to the search area (Louise driving) took "10 or 15 minutes."  Switching to Louise for the next time check we have her saying, about the time they arrived at the search area "It was about 8 o'clock".

The time period from arriving at the start of the search area to the point when the discovery of the body is notified is evidently about 1 hour and 20 minutes which might appear to be greater than expected.  Let's break things down a bit.  Paul talks about it being about a ten minute walk back down to the car when the woods are left - looking at the map I would say the distance is approximately half a mile which ties in with Paul's ten minute walk.  It is not a dissimilar distance from the woods to the River Thames with the slight difference that the gradient between the river and Harrowdown Hill is somewhat steeper.  Looking at Google Earth it is apparent that there is a gate on the left hand side of the track just short of where the wood starts.  It would seem that the searchers went through this gate because they next describe being in the field searching the southern perimeter of the wood.  Having drawn a blank they retraced their steps to the main path before actually getting into the wood proper.  They could only search so far north in the wood because of a barbed wire fence.  The search in this southern part of the wood was evidently slow going because Paul says  "There were no paths or anything so we were having to climb across trees and go round all the bushes and things." 

It was after searching the southern part of the wood that they decided to eliminate the area down to the Thames.  I would suggest it would have been something like 10 minutes to the river, 10 minutes back and say nearly 5 minutes finding the boat people and talking to them.

As we know the searchers went back up the hill from the Thames to do the northern sector of the wood.  They followed the same procedure as before, examining the outside perimeter of the wood first and Paul, in answer to a question, guesses that this bit of the search took about ten or fifteen minutes.  Again drawing a blank they revert to the main path and enter into the northern sector from the east.  Once in the wood again it is evident from what Paul says that it is about 5 minutes later that Brock discovers Dr Kelly.

There are two or three minutes lost now because Paul was unable to contact his control and had to make a 999 call instead with Abingdon police station calling him back.  I've gone into a lot of detail I know but I wanted to demonstrate how all this search time could accumulate.  This exercise also helps us to try and get some sort of fix as to the time the boat people were seen.  My own estimate of that would be about 8.40 to 8.45.      


  1. Brian - a fascinating piece of deduction, probably not too far off at all.
    I just wanted to comment on DC Coe (Cole has slipped into your post) and his statement before Lord Hutton. I thought it a bit odd that such importance was given to the time when death was confirmed and DC Coe left,which sent him to his pocket book to confirm it exactly,especially when so little other detail about his activities over the two day period came to light - indeed timings in general. I wonder what else was in his pocket book? I am intrigued.
    Rather topically, the log which the ambulance personnel filled in has mysteriously vanished and perhaps the other copy of it too (which a commenter on the Daily Mail article says ought to be retained by the hospital), should have confirmed the time as 10.07 when life was declared extinct. As you say, perhaps that is whence DC Coe extracted the information before it vanished. This slip was not submitted to the Hutton Inquiry, but whose responsibility would it have been (and would have discovered that it was missing at the time)?It would be interesting to know what the two ambulance personnel,Vanessa and David, thought about that point at the time of the Inquiry. All very puzzling.

  2. Thanks very much indeed for the link Felix. It is very unfortunate that the Patient Report Form has vanished because if a new Inquest were to take place and presumably Vanessa Hunt and David Bartlett called then being able to refer to the information on the PRF would surely be an important aspect of their testimony.

    At Hutton of course they were describing their actions less than two months after they took place. Now 7 years plus later it would be much more difficult to convince an inquest jury that their recollections were 100% correct!

    Well spotted my mistake about DC Coe's name. It's quite embarrassing looking at it, I think I had better do some editing!

  3. I'm just amazed that Lord Hutton did not seek to better establish some of the key time points in this affair. Surely the searchers would have noted the exact time of their discovery, and TVP would have a record of all calls made to their control room. This is not to mention the fact that they had already established the Operation Mason log by this time.

    What I can't quite figure out is why this wasn't seen as important. Was it not done to simply disguise some degree of loose procedural practice and prevent professional embarrassment, or was there some other reason for this?