Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Paul Chapman was asked about a helicopter at the Inquiry

We know from Freedom of Information requests that a helicopter was at Harrowdown Hill on the morning of 18th July 2003.  The record shows that it was there between 10.35 and 11.00 and also that it landed for the last five minutes of this time.  It was supposedly tasked to take photographs at Harrowdown Hill but the reason for the landing isn't disclosed - that vital piece of information in the log being redacted.

A helicopter had been used in the search phase but it seems that this finally went off scene at 4.45, although shown as 0.45 on the print out I'm guessing that it should be 4.45 although that leaves a measly 10 minutes for searching after it had refuelled.  As part of ACC Page's meeting at 5.15 that morning there is another helicopter mention:

Q. What was the result of your meeting at 5.15?
A. Well the result of my meeting was that we began to establish a search pattern. As a holding measure, I asked for officers who were reinforcement officers who were arriving about this stage -- we had between 30 and 40 officers available to us, and I asked them to start searching outward from Dr Kelly's house. I asked for the helicopter to be brought into play again.

Although daylight by this time the helicopter doesn't reappear to continue searching.  A little later ACC Page talks of having the mounted branch from Milton Keynes on the way because they can cover the ground quickly but at 7.30 they had yet to arrive.  Much of that part of Oxfordshire appears to consist of large open fields with just a small amount of woodland, ideal for continued helicopter searching I would have thought.

Louise Holmes, Paul Chapman and search dog Brock arrive at the bottom of the track leading up to Harrowdown Hill at 8 o'clock. This is part of the questioning of Mr Chapman by Mr Dingemans:

Q. Where did you park up?
A. At the southern end of the path of our search area, just north of Longworth.
Q. When you arrived was anyone else in the area?
A. No.
Q. Passed any cars on the way?

A. A few in the village on the way.
Q. Did you see any other search teams around?
A. No.
Q. Did you hear a helicopter or anything?

A. No, there was no helicopter at all.

The question one might ask is why did Mr Dingemans mention a helicopter: he must surely have known that there wasn't one flying in that area at that time.  I believe that he doesn't pose any questions without some (useful to him) reason.

So we have a picture painted as a result of the examination by Mr Dingemans of no helicopter activity or search teams around.  Yet we know that when the ambulance crew arrive there is a buzz of activity on the ground and 40 minutes later a helicopter is above Harrowdown Hill.

Could it just be that Mr Dingemans wants to instill in his audience a picture of very little action happening at this critical time and certainly no helicopter flight. 


  1. PC Franklin who was appointed search team advisor was being briefed at Abingdon police station by Sgt Woods before the call came in that a body had been found, he was just about to deploy his team and PC Sawyer had been given to him as search team leader.

    "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.
    Q. We have heard evidence about a helicopter out searching the night before. Had you heard about that?
    4 A. No."


    "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 --"

    Nobody had briefed the person in charge of the search team that a helicopter had searched the area he was about to search but found nothing.

    Mr Franklin could have mentioned that a helicopter landed whilst he was waiting for DCI Young to turn up but he didn't think to mention it.

    Sgt Webb had been told about the helicopter

    "Were you told about a helicopter that had been used?
    A. I understand the helicopter had been used in an attempt to find any sort of zones of heat, I believe they call that.
    Q. What had been the result of those night-time searches?
    A. They were all negative."

    So the bloke who was sent to interview the family knew about the helicopter but not the guy who was in charge of the search team.

    And which helicopter was above the Kelly home at 1am, the one that the police turned on their blue flashing light of their vehicles to identify the location of the cottage?

  2. Anonymous,

    You correctly identify one of many anomalies in the Thames Valley Police account of the events of 18th July 2003.

    I agree, too, that the absence of mention by PCs Franklin and Sawyer of the helicopter landing at 10.55 close to their location is bizarre. At least, it would be bizarre in the context of evidence to any inquiry other than the Hutton Inquiry.

    What reason would PCs Franklin and Sawyer have to conceal the landing of the helicopter?

    My working hypothesis is that the helicopter was involved in carrying out an enterprise that it was necessary (for political purposes, I suspect) to keep from the public.

  3. The key question is who put Mr Dingemans up to ask this strange question about a helicopter.

  4. Brian,

    There is another oddity about the evidence re helicopters.

    From the evidence of PC Franklin:

    2 Q. We have heard evidence about a helicopter out searching
    3 the night before. Had you heard about that?
    4 A. No.

    A surprising omission, or lack of briefing, for someone supposedly informed about and expert in search techniques.

    PC Franklin also happens, so it seems, to have been oblivious to the "secret helicopter" landing a short distance away.

    Which, I suggest, is very odd!

  5. Andrew

    A very good point about PC Franklin apparently being out of the loop regarding the helicopter search.

    Regarding the mid morning helicopter visit perhaps both PC Franklin and PC Sawyer were told "don't mention the helicopter"!

  6. Franklin and Sawyer were unable to commence their search until DCI arrived at 12.06pm.

    It was a nice summers day so they may not have noticed a helicopter landing and taking off again if they were making daisy chains or something.

  7. Brian,

    If PC Franklin and PC Sawyer were instructed not to mention the helicopter, wouldn't that be rather naughty?

    Might that not be "concealment of evidence"?

  8. LL,

    Men are said not to be able to multitask.

    Perhaps being fully occupied making daisy chains made it impossible for them to hear a helicopter land a few yards away?

    Not everyone realises how noisy daisy chain making can be!

  9. The purpose of the mystery helicopter that landed after the body had been found is now quite obvious. It was sent to take photo's, propably quite high resolution photo's of the area where there had been activity during the night. It was all part of the clearing up excercise that followed a night of moving bodies, arranging evidence and turning murder into suicide.
    It was done to ensure there were not such things as items of clothing, even bloodstained items left in the fields below the wood. These items could then have been found by farm staff at harvet and could have been very embarrasing for the police.
    What we all have to remember is that Thames Valley Police had a very important and very difficult role in the death of Dr Kelly.
    They were there to tidy up the mess left by others.
    Persons as yet unknown committed the murder, albiet with a bit of help from the UK security services.
    Special Branch is most likely to be the organisation that first found the body of the late doctor. They then procceded to try and make it look even more like suicide than the murderers had.
    Then when they had done their bit good old TVP had to take over the scene, go through the motions of "finding" the body and then do eneough of an investigation to satisfy joe public that all is well once again.
    Not an easy task!

  10. Frank

    The log of this aircraft does show that its purpose was to take photographs and videos but that does not explain the landing.

    PC's Sawyer and Franklin reached the scene within 8 minutes of the call coming in that a body had been found (9.20am) their team set up an outer cordon at 9.28am.

    Sawyer and Franklin told the Hutton inquiry that their role at the scene was to search the area where the body was found.

    The first thing that ACC Page does when he hears a body has been found is appoint a Bronze Commander (DCI Alan Young) as Senior Investigating officer of the scene.

    Franklin and Sawyer told the Hutton inquiry that they were unable to commence their search until DCI Young arrived.

    DCI Young was also in charge of Operation Mason which concluded at 9.30am, about the same time that he was appointed Bronze Commander at Harrowdown Hill.

    What appears most likely is that DCI Young was the 3rd man with DC Coe mopping up Operation Mason.

    Did DCI Young take charge of repositioning the body? Was he airlifted away from the scene at 11.00am to go to police HQ to brief his bosses on events? The aircraft that landed was based at Benson but when the helicopter took off at 11.00am it flew towards police HQ the opposite direction to where it is based.

    DCI Young was officially booked into the outer cordon at 12.06 pm. Are we expected to believe that the guy in charge of the scene took nearly 3 hours to get to the Harrowdown Hill when his men, waiting to do their jobs, got there in 8 minutes?

    If DCI Young wasn't already at the scene why did ACC Page appoint someone to take charge who couldn't attend the scene for 3 hours? And what was DCI Young doing in those 3 hours when he was the Bronze Commander at Harrowdown Hill but not actually there?

    I feel an FOI coming on "what time were DC Coe, DC Shields and the colleague who accompanied them booked out of the outer cordon?"

  11. Ll,
    yes it is possible that this helicopter did pick someone up from the scene, but it I think it is more likely that the purpose of the landing was to hand over the disc or whatever data storage system the cameras on board the helicopter used to store video/images. As I tried to explain in my earlier comment this was the first opportunity they had to check the area over in daylight, and had there been any items of clothing or other incriminating debris left lying in the crops or the long grass it would be vital that the whereabouts of such items was recorded and someone could then be dispatched to remove them.
    I agree, a foir to ask what time were DC Coe, DC Shields and the colleague who accompanied them booked out of the outer cordon would be useful. But it would also be useful if we could find out who was at the scene when the helicopter landed and who could have taken custody of whatever discs the helicopter crew handed over. Also, we need to know more about the flight of this helicopter, not just where it went when it left the scene, but over what area did it fly in order to take the photos.
    Are you going to organise some more foir's?
    I have recently put in a foir to TVP to try and establish more about the structure of Operation Mason and the search. The search appears to have been TVP's baby as they were the owners and presumably the operators of the huge mast in Kelly's garden. I am interested to know if the other agencies such as Special Branch and MI5 were required to report to TVP or did they just 'do their own thing'?
    Mail me if you want my assistance. Brian and Andrew both have my email.


  12. Frank your deduction that the helicopter landed so that an image file could be handed over is corroborated by the flight log

    Mysteriously the log obtained by Andrew had the video and stills info redacted, not so in the FOI response that I got.

    But the purpose of the landing was redacted from the response to my request however the response now on TVP web site to my request now has the purpose of the landing in but there is still a redaction to the end of the line (who the file was handed to?)

    log now reads

    "Requested to take photographs of Harrowdown Hill, Nr ongworth (sic) Location where a body was found during search for misper from Southmoor. Video and still taken. Landed 1055hrs -1100hrs to hand film over"

    The response to Andrews foi shows that the redaction on his response goes to the edge of the page so there is further info after "to hand film over"

    The next flight log shows where this aircraft flew to after it took off.

    I've put in a foi regarding Coe, Shield plus another timings of when they were booked out of outer cordon.

    ACC Page at Hutton says he involved special branch.

  13. Frank,

    I don't fully agree that the purpose of the helicopter flight was "obvious".

    Today I've asked an FOI request of Thames Valley Police about the "secret helicopter landing" of 18th July 2003 here: FOI Request to Thames Valley Police - The "secret helicopter landing" etc on 18th July 2003.

    My working hypothesis is that the purpose of the secret helicopter flight and landing was other than you suggest.

  14. LL,

    The redaction on the FOI response to my question about the helicopter is still about two thirds of a line long, even after the recent non-publicised removal of redaction.

  15. Andrew,
    If one places the two logs side by side one can see clearly on the first one that certain information is 'blacked out'(redacted).
    On the second one most of the 'blacked out' areas are now readable but some of the text that was readable in the first log is now missing....namely the bit in the centre in the 'Incident Details' column and some of the 'blacked out' text at the bottom of the page is now missing all together!
    It does seem TVP are digging a hole for themselves!

  16. I think the 18th Century poet Sir Walter Scott has a message for our friends at Thames Valley Police, it goes something like this:

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!

    Might I suggest you attach it to the next FOIR.


  17. If DCI Young was bronze commander, who was the silver commander?

  18. Geoaunnes

    It was Katherine Govier.

  19. Felix,

    Thanks very much. We were never told about her. Do we know if she ever actually did anything?

  20. Geoaunnes.

    It is likely more than one operation was going on. (which might explain why the Tactical Support protection PCs didn't know what Dc Coe was up to).

    From the TVP Critical Incident Management document, the ACC will convene a Gold group within 24 hours of an incident being deemed critical. One supposes this occurred at 05.15 hrs, not very long after the ACC and the Superintendent were roused. see sections 4-6 in the document and paragraphs 6/7 in this published FoI answer.

    The information supplied by ACC Page to the Hutton Inquiry is deliberately minimalist. There may have been several bronze commanders. ACC Page only hints at the superintendent's name...
    " Chief Superintendent. She.....rang me almost immediately."

    and from the above FoI
    "The matter was escalated to Chief Superintendent (Silver) level at 0305hrs"
    In the initial stages, the BCU (Basic Command Unit) commander (Chief Supt in this case) will be the Gold Commander,with the control room inspector acting as silver commander.

    A high risk missing person will trigger a critical incident.

    What we don't know is if changes to the command structure emerged after the 05.15 meeting.

    Below Gold (ACC level)
    "Silver – led by a Superintendent or local Chief Inspector. Silver (is) multi-agency, co-ordinat(ing) the tactical level response, developing plan(s) to match Gold’s requirements.....

    The early stages of a critical incident are known as the Golden Hour,where mistakes made can prejudice a successful outcome. Of course in this case, we don't know what a successful outcome ought to have been.

    What is completely non credible is that a Sergeant had been responsible for calling out a police helicopter, (" The police helicopter had also been called out and had been making intermittent searches around the area of the house using heat seeking equipment. ".when one imagines that a duty control room inspector might have been expected to have done that.

    Intermittent searches!

    One thing which seems to be missing is this:
    "5.1 The duty inspector for the BCU / LPA will attend the scene of any actual or potential critical incident (dependent on the circumstances) within 1 hour of being notified.". So when would that have been? And who came out? And where the radio masts order fits into all command structure is anybody's guess.