Sunday, 13 February 2011

Volunteers searching unaccompanied

When the volunteer searchers Louise Holmes and Paul Chapman arrived at Abingdon Police Station on the morning of Friday 18th July 2003 they were asked to carry out a search the like of which I'm sure they wouldn't have seen before.  I have previously posted videos of Ms Holmes and her lovely search dog Brock and  In these videos I, for one, got a sense of what the lowland search dogs were all about.  What they quite definitely didn't seem to be about to me was being involved in looking for a high profile person and where there was a possibility of a crime having occurred.

To add a little to my remark about the possibility of a crime having taken place it's instructive I think to read the testimony of ACC Page when he makes his first visit to the Inquiry on the morning of the third of September.  This is what is said after ACC Page states he had organised a meeting for 5 o'clock on the Friday morning (Mr Dingemans asking the questions):

Q. Did they all get there at 5 am?
A. I think we started the meeting about 5.15 am.
Q. What did you discuss at the meeting?
A. I was obviously briefed on the information that had been obtained from Dr Kelly's family.
Q. What information had been obtained?
A. In terms of when he had left the house, his demeanour, what he had been wearing when he had left, details of any conversations that had taken place, their feelings about his mood at the time of leaving, general background information as to what had happened over the last few weeks and what impact that may have had on him.
Q. And your receipt of that information -- and we have heard from the family ourselves now -- what effect did that have on your approach to the investigation?

A. Well, at that stage it was a missing person investigation. My concerns were that Dr Kelly had gone out for a walk, perhaps become ill, perhaps had an accident befall him, possibly had been abducted against his will, possibly was being detained. There were a whole range of options that I was trying to consider.

So at that moment in time we have ACC Page considering that Dr Kelly might have been abducted against his will, in fact he might have been detained somewhere.  This is serious stuff - we aren't talking about a missing child or an elderly person suffering from Alzheimer's walking around confused.  Surprisingly then we have the two volunteer searchers looking for Dr Kelly rather than a police team with dogs.  When sending Ms Holmes, Mr Chapman and Brock out to Harrowdown Hill it might have been a sensible precaution one would think to have a police officer accompany them.  It was their controller Neil Knight who was briefing them in the company of other police and my thought is that there would have been some serious discussion between Mr Knight and the police initially with Mr Knight made totally aware of the high profile of Dr Kelly.  Incidentally I don't recall seeing a witness statement from Mr Knight amongst the documents lodged at the Inquiry.

When PCs Franklin and Sawyer arrive for their briefing at Abingdon Police Station there seems to be quite a change of emphasis regarding the reason for Dr Kelly's disappearance.  This is an exchange between Mr Knox and PC Sawyer at the Inquiry:

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, 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. 

As we know no harm befell the volunteers but when the two ambulance crew gave an interview in the Observer of 12 December 2004 we have this from paramedic Vanessa Hunt:

When they arrived at the woods 15 minutes later it was immediately clear that this was not a run-of-the-mill incident. 'There were a lot of police around,' said Hunt. 'Some were in civilian clothes and others in black jackets and army fatigues. I thought it might have been a firearms incident as there were the guys from the special armed response units.' 

If I had a suspicious mind I might be tempted to believe that the volunteers were sent out with the police confident that no danger was going to befall them.  Did ACC Page have a moment of clairvoyance seeing Dr Kelly's dead body in the woodland on top of Harrowdown Hill that July morning?  


  1. Even more remarkable that just one pair of dog searchers was sent out alone when the head of Special Branch no less had rolled out of bed for a 5am briefing at Abingdon along with the search adviser Sgt Paul Wood(s) and and the mysterious clairvoyant Sergeant from Milton Keynes. ( Witness statement of Paul Woods - not for release - personal witness statement TVP/7/0042 -0043) What a caper.

  2. Felix,
    One pair of dog searchers was more than enough when you take into account the fact that Special Branch already knew exactly where the body was lying and all they had to do was instruct the searchers to search the wood and the track leading to it in order to find the body

  3. According to SEBEV's website they currently have a 47 strong team of volunteers. One example of a search and rescue operation described on their website refers to an elderly man with dementia who went missing; within an hour SEBEV had 17 of their number on the scene.

    Contrast this with the high profile, "high risk" incident that was David Kelly's dissapearance; Helicopter, frog men, a mounted division, dozens of police officers, specialists brought in from Milton Keynes and Windsor, radio masts etc.

    And two volunteers from SEBEV who are sent to search the second most likely spot where Dr Kelly might be found.

    The most high profile missing person, possibly, in the history of SEBEV and only two are asked to help?

  4. LL, a very pertinent comment! It's interesting too that we aren't told the whereabouts of the first most likely location where Dr Kelly might be found and if it was searched. That Harrowdown Hill was number 2 on the list was to the best of ACC Page's recollection. Perhaps his memory was letting him down.