Friday, 12 November 2010

All roads lead to Harrowdown Hill

Dr Andrew Watt has an interesting post on his "Chilcot's Cheating Us" blog under the title "The Death of Dr.David Kelly - the absent CCTV evidence!"  This led to a number of comments as to whether Dr Kelly's movements were being constantly watched, not necessarily with him being physically shadowed on the ground but maybe by an attached electronic device.  Rowena makes the valid point that the intelligence services would have access to technology we know nothing about.  I've also heard the suggestion that the presence of his mobile phone on him would allow the security services to monitor his position.

So, when the police were out searching for Dr Kelly on the morning of the 18th July did they have a quite accurate idea as to where he was?  We are led to believe that attention was directed to Harrowdown Hill because it was popular with Dr Kelly.  I can accept this but what is questionable of course is the way that Harrowdown seems to have been prioritised over other locations to be searched.  It also seems fairly logical for the two volunteer searchers with the dog Brock to be used for the Harrowdown Hill search - we know from the evidence presented by Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman that the woods on Harrowdown Hill were exactly the sort of habitat best searched by a dog with a good nose.

Mr Dingemans establishes from PC Franklin that the latter has been called from his home at Windsor on the morning of the 18th to attend Abingdon Police Station.  The exchange continues:

Q. When you arrived, who else was there?
A. I met with my sergeant, Paul Woods, who took us into a briefing; and there was several other officers there.
Q. How many officers were there?
A. I could not tell you exactly.
Q. But roughly?
A. 8 to 10.
Q. You were given a briefing by your sergeant?
A. Yes.
Q. What was the nature of the briefing?
A. The nature of the briefing was initially a missing person search, to look for Dr David Kelly.

Q. You were given some details of Dr Kelly?
A. Yes, we were given a photograph with his details on it, what he was supposed to be wearing, and then Sergeant Woods and I discussed the search parameters and whereabouts we would start the search.
Q. And what was the nature of that discussion?
A. With all missing person inquiries we look, initially, to beauty spots, areas that are frequented by the missing person, and that is where we would start our search.
Q. Had you got any information about what areas he frequented then?
A. I was passed that information by Sergeant Woods.
Q. What were you told by Sergeant Woods?

A. The search would begin at Harrowdown Hill, which was apparently an area frequented by Dr Kelly on his regular walking route.
Q. And having had this discussion with Sergeant Woods, where do you go then?
A. We were actually at the police station. I was just deploying my team --
Q. How many are in your team?
A. I was given a search team leader, which is PC Sawyer, and 6 other officers, when we received a call that a body had been found at Harrowdown Hill.
Q. Do you know how many other people were out searching at this time?
A. I believe it was only the two volunteers out searching at that time. The parameters for our search and the logistics of calling our teams in does take a bit of time. So PC Sawyer and I were going to be the first team out on the ground.

Compare and contrast with this evidence given to Mr Knox by PC Sawyer a little later that morning:

Q. You were on duty on the morning of 18th July?
A. Yes.
Q. What happened when you first turned up?
A. I was called out, I believe, about 6 o'clock in the morning to attend Abingdon police station for 8, where I was informed by PC Franklin we had a high risk missing person. We had a missing person who was identified to me as Dr Kelly.
Q. Just pause there for a moment. A high risk missing person, meaning what?
A. "High risk" means that there is a possibility that because of the length of time they have been missing there is a possibility that he might have done himself harm.
Q. So Police Constable Franklin tells you that. Then what happens?

A. Then we are in the briefing that Police Constable Franklin has already described. We are just about to leave to perform our first searches, which would have been in the village and the surrounding areas of the route he was thought to have taken, when information came in that a body had been found. I then left with Police Constable Franklin to attend the scene.
Q. Can you remember what time it was that that information came in?
A. It would have been about 9 o'clock, I believe.

PC Sawyer seems to be mistaken about the 9 o'clock timing if we accept the time of 9.20 provided later by ACC Page.  In his evidence ACC Page refers to advice from two specialist search advisers - one of these was Sergeant Paul Wood (elsewhere referred to as Paul Woods) and the other an apparently unnamed sergeant from Milton Keynes.  They produced a list of about half a dozen places to look at initially, to the best of ACC Page's recollection Harrowdown Hill was number 2 on this list.

Some thoughts on the above:
1.  The volunteer searchers are sent unerringly to Harrowdown Hill for their first search.  Bearing in mind that there is surprisingly little other woodland in the area with the majority of that immediate landscape consisting of large open fields it's not unreasonable in my view for the volunteers to have been tasked to the Hill initially.
2.  PCs Franklin and Sawyer are at the same briefing that Friday morning.  PC Franklin is clear that the search is going to start at Harrowdown Hill.  PC Sawyer talks about the village and the surrounding areas.  Why the disparity between accounts?
3.  With the volunteers already in the process of searching the HH area while the briefing is going on why is Sergeant Woods planning to duplicate their efforts?  With about half a dozen areas to look at why isn't he considering one of these other areas?
4.  Time is surely of the essence as Dr Kelly has been away from his home for so many hours.  Whereas after a quick briefing the volunteer searchers are on their way, the police start their briefing at about 8 o'clock, an hour and 20 minutes later they are still at the station!  Part of the time delay might well be due to bureaucracy.  It's also possible that ACC Page is aware that DC Coe and colleagues are approaching Harrowdown Hill and that they might have work to carry out before the arrival of the regular police.
5.  ACC Page hears at 9.20 that a body that could be that of Dr Kelly is found.  It will be some minutes before DC Coe comes through with the message that he is at the body and is in control of the site.  Why didn't ACCPage immediately dispatch a fast police car, blue lights flashing to the site. We have no evidence of this happening.
6.  Felix made the observation (credit to him) that the two searchers were told to return to their car after finding the body.  He wondered why one of them at least hadn't been tasked to stay with the body until the police arrived.
7.  From DC Coe's scanty evidence we learn in one short paragraph that he is lucky enough to have found Ms Absalom, goes to the point she saw Dr Kelly the previous afternoon and has a 'light bulb' moment that causes him to make a sort of search towards the river, a direction that luck would have it takes him past the wood on Harrowdown Hill.  Is this credible?
8.  The police would have plenty of time during the course of the night to talk to Mrs Kelly and her daughters about the places to which Dr Kelly frequently went.  Did it really need a couple of sergeants with special search knowledge to indicate the best places to look for Dr Kelly?  Wouldn't someone of ACC Page's status been able to come to similar conclusions?

These are just a few more questions posed by what was said (or not said) at the Inquiry. 


  1. I'm just a bit puzzled how a Sergeant from Milton Keynes, or Bletchley perhaps, can have a much deeper insight into the geography of West Oxfordshire , the complete other end of the TVP area, than local police?

    Mr Dingemans asks ACC Michael Page.
    " many men did you have on the ground searching outwards?
    A. Ultimately by about 7.30 I had 30 police officers drawn in from other police areas. I had the resources on duty within that police area, which would have been another 10.
    Q. Yes.
    A. I had the mounted branch on the way from Milton Keynes but they had not yet arrived."

    Can we deconstruct this? Were those 30 officers from other TVP police areas - Oxfordshire Basic Command Units or other Counties within TVP? Had they arrived? What is THAT police area Mr Page refers to - is it Vale of White Horse wherein Harrowdown and Abingdon lies?
    So we have 40 TVP police on duty (searching?) at 7.30 (or???). Mr Page had said that they already had about half a dozen places to look by this time, so 40 divided by 6 gives perhaps 6 or 7 officers who would be at Harrowdown Hill by 7.30am?? As Mr Page said " So by about 7 o'clock I was beginning to get some sort of form to the search we were making." (whatever that means)

    Is there any evidence of any horses or divers arriving, as organised by Mr Page? Or were they turned back when a body was found at 9.20?

  2. Felix

    My interpretation of what ACC Page is saying regarding the specialists is not that they know the local geography but that they have a sense of the sort of places that a missing person might go to - a sort of psychological profiling in a sense. I'm not at all convinced of the necessity for such "experts" but what could be argued I suppose is that being called in to so many missing persons searches they build up a background of experience that might serve well even outside their regular geographic area.

  3. I take your points, Brian. What I don't understand is why everything is so cryptic in ACC Page's statement. Why not mention Tactical Support,for instance or the TVP Specialist Search and Recovery Team or the TVP Protection Group by name?
    His evidence is stong on what would be done in the ideal search,but the other visual evidence doesn't seem to bear it out.
    One fascinating document I on the web is a paper, a very thorough Home Office document called Missing You Already A guide to the investigation of missing persons. It is dated 2002, prior to Dr Kelly's disappearance. The author, would you believe, is a Police Sergeant called CHARLIE HEDGES ,and carries a foreword by Commander Richard Bryan
    Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on Missing Persons. "Charlie Hedges" is apparently from the Thames Valley Police.
    Charlie Hedges' name does pop up once at a Commons Select Committee in 2005 accompanied by puzzlement.
    I suspect Mr Page is well acquinted with the pages of Charlie Hedges.
    The name does recur in policing, perhaps as a departmental title, never with a rank,notably with the NPIA Missing Persons Bureau,founded 2007. NPIA = the National Policing Improvement Agency, which seems to be an ACPO-Home Office interface.It is based at Wyboston near Bedford.
    "Charlie Hedges" also pops up on websites of NPIA's predecessor, the NCPE, or Centrex or the National Centre for Policing Excellence ,established 2002,also at Wyboston and closely associated with ACPO. Centrex published an updated search manual in 2006. The NCPE has as one of its stated aims "The provision of operational support and consultation to police in the mangement of major incidents"

    Chief Inspector Alan Young (Operation Mason) was based at Milton Keynes (as Superintendent) in the years after 2003, and perhaps also before it. I wonder where "Charlie Hedges" was stationed in the TVP?
    Is he perhaps the Sergeant who was drafted in?

  4. Brian -

    On your points here:

    1. It's likely that the helicopter would have been tasked with carrying out a search pattern that would have systematically covered all the local open ground. As anyone who has watched 'Police, Camera, Action' will have noticed, the infra-red cameras as fitted to police aircraft cannot readily see into undergrowth and wooded areas. (BTW - I note that some have suggested that the helicopter may well have overflown HH and not spotted Dr Kelly, leading to a suggestion that he was not there at that time. I personally tend to think that these individuals may be unaware of such camera limitations.) Obviously the use of search dogs is better suited to searching woodland, as was the case.

    2. I can't really see much disparity between the accounts of PCs Franklin and Sawyer. PC Franklin simply states the start point, which no doubt would been expanded upon over time until either a find was made or the search was called off. To get to HH they would have had to travel through Longworth, and there is no doubt that HH is in the "surrounding areas" as described by PC Sawyer, whilst speaking in the plural concerning the first of their "searches".

    3. Do we know that Sergeant Woods was precisely aware of the exact location of the volunteers search area? If he wasn't then he couldn't have planned to duplicate their efforts. From PC Franklin's evidence it is not clear whether knowledge of the SEBEVs' search came only subsequently.

    Q. Do you know how many other people were out searching at this time?

    A. I believe it was only the two volunteers out searching at that time.

    He was asked 'do' you know rather than 'did' you know. Going by his continuing evidence this possibly after-the-event understanding may have in fact been the case:

    So PC Sawyer and I were going to be the first team out on the ground.

    4. We must remember that there was already a substantial police presence in Southmoor looking for Dr Kelly. ACC Page, although in overall charge, had the area commander (at Chief Superintendent rank) and the area detective inspector (DI Smith) involved in conducting inquiries etc. It is quite likely that these individuals would have been more actively involved in the ground-level decision making process, and would also have been the first to be informed about new developments.

    You also mention DC Coe (and colleagues) again here and state that "they might have work to carry out before the arrival of the regular police." I'm not exactly sure what you are suggesting here.

    5. You suggest that ACC Page should have immediately dispatched a fast police car (with blue lights flashing) to the site. To what end if other officers were already in the vicinity? Although DC Coe seems not to have been aware of the searchers and their discovery it is not impossible that he was directed to the location. Having used a normal scanner in the past I note that police communications are not (or at least weren't) secure and are often short of finer detail.

    6. As above - possibly because of knowledge that police attendance was imminent.

    7. Is this credible? I can't see why not if he/they are following up a lead.

    8. What is the point in the police having specialist officers in any regard if Assistant Chief Constables (who are usually some way removed from routine day-to-day activities) are all seeing and all knowing?

    Just on Felix's points - I think there is a natural reticence within the police service in general to describe or categorise its own operational capabilities and techniques. I don't think there is anything unusual in this. As far as I can see ACC Page covered as much as he thought was strictly necessary for Lord Hutton to hear in public and simply did not go beyond that which he was asked.