Monday, 27 August 2012

DC Coe - taken to the body (1)

DC Coe related the fact that he went to the body with Paul Chapman after the police officers bumped into the two volunteer searchers.  There are subtle but important differences in the accounts of Louise Holmes, Paul Chapman and DC Coe as to where the two groups met each other and how many police officers set off with Mr Chapman to view the body.  Trying to make some sense from these variations is the purpose of this post.

Put yourself in the position of Louise Holmes or Paul Chapman on the evening of 1 September 2003: the next morning you are due to give evidence at the Hutton Inquiry.  Even though the Inquiry isn't hearing anybody's evidence under oath you are conscientous and want to be correct in what you say.  If it was me I would want to look at my police witness statement, the statement made on the very day of the event, to remind myself of what happened.  I think it makes sense to examine that part of their revealed statements about meeting DC Coe and his companions and the events that immediately followed and then to see how well their oral evidence at the Inquiry compares.

A reminder of the relevant part of the statement by Louise Holmes: 

Shortly afterwards we left the wooded area 'C' and returned to the track 'B' using the previous entry point into the wooded area.  Nobody else was in sight and in order to meet up and show Police Officers where the body had been found, we walked south along the track 'B' towards Common Lane.

We met 3 Police Officers in plain clothes who identified themselves and we showed them our identity cards.  We advised them that we had found a body in Harrowdown Hill 'C'. Paul then went with the 3 Police Officers to show them the location of the body and I returned to my vehicle parked in Common Lane at 'A'.

I think that her written statement could not be clearer.  The searchers met the 3 plain clothes officers somewhere on the track, she states that she returned to her vehicle after meeting the police and it's clear that this meeting was somewhere on the length of the lane rather than at the parking area, or in the wood for that matter.

The fact that she didn't return to the body with Paul Chapman makes total sense to me:
(a) It only needed one searcher to show the police the body
(b) She would want to get Brock back to her vehicle and get him settled down
(c) The regular police had yet to arrive and it would make sense to be available to inform and direct them.

At the Inquiry her evidence was given to Mr Knox:

Q. And what did you then do?
A. We walked back towards the car. On the way to the car we met three police officers and Paul took them back to show them where the body was, and I went back to the car.
Q. Did you meet the police officers in the woods or after you got out of the woods?
A. No, on the track, just between the woods and the car.
Q. What did you tell the police officers?
A. They identified to us who they were. We said who we were and we were involved in the search and we had found the body, and they went with Paul to see.
Q. So in other words, Paul Chapman goes back with the police to show them where the body is?
A. Yes.
Q. What did you do?
A. I went back to the car to sort the dog out and then when I got to the car further police officers and personnel
came up to the car to take over, take over the scene.
Q. Did you then go back to the scene at all?
A. No.

An excellent match with her police witness statement and nothing to my mind at all controversial there.  The phrase 'further police officers and personnel' is interesting when later comments by the ambulance crew are considered.

Now compare her witness statement with the one Paul Chapman made on the same day: 

The time that we found the body was 09.15 hrs.  I then tried to contact my manager but his phone was on answer machine so I called the police on 999.  Once police arrived they then were shown where the body was and they took overall charge.  I wish to further that I showed the body to DC2368 COE at 09.40 hrs.

No detail whatsoever about the process whereby Coe and his colleagues got involved.  This from a man who works for a major insurance company where correct detailed replies to questions are essential.  The question is: when looking at their respective witness statements which of the two searchers is more likely to give the correct information as to what happened after they met the three police officers?  I suggest it would be Louise Holmes.

At the Inquiry this is the exchange between Mr Dingemans and Paul Chapman: 

Q. Right. After you had seen that, where did you go next?
A. We retraced our steps back down to the main path and then walked back south along the path to where the car was parked.
Q. Did the police attend?
A. Yes, they did.
Q. And did you help them when they had arrived?
A. Yes. As we were going down the path we met three police officers coming the other way that were from CID. We identified ourselves to them. They were not actually aware that (a) the body had been found or we were out searching this area. They I think had just come out on their own initiative to look at the area. I informed them we had found the body and they asked me to take
them back to indicate where it was.
Q. So these were not the people you had arranged to meet, as it were?
A. No, because this was only 2 or 3 minutes after I had made the phone call.
Q. How did you know they were police officers?
A. Because they showed me their Thames Valley Police identification.
Q. Do you recall their names?
A. Only one of them was DC Coe.
Q. Did you show them the body?
A. Yes. We walked back up the hill with the three of them and then they decided as they got a bit closer to the edge of the wood that I needed only to take one of the officers in, so I took DC Coe in to show him where the body was.
Q. What were you wearing at the time?
A. I was wearing my standard search kit, walking boots, outdoor trousers, our uniform polo shirts.
Q. Did you need to give anything to the police?
A. All they did was take a copy of the soles of my boots.
Q. Right. After that, what happened?
A. Once we had shown them where the body was, we returned to the car. More police officers had arrived there. We waited around a while until we were released from the
scene, where we went back with one of the police officers to Abingdon police station where we made our statements.

I don't think he is using a royal "We" here, elsewhere the context confirms that "we" is he and Louise Holmes.  Later it will be seen that he meets two police officers PC Franklin and PC Sawyer on the track after he had left DC Coe with the body ... but he is not reported as being with Ms Holmes at that time.

So why did he indicate that Louise Holmes went back with him to the body?  It may not be totally satisfactory as an explanation but I can only think that Mr Chapman's memory let him down at this juncture.  Looking at his witness statement wouldn't have helped remind him because the detailed sequence of events wasn't recorded.

In the next post another, questionable, version of events will be discussed.

1 comment:

  1. Another thing: Mr Chapman gets to the point of taking DC Coe into the wood and showing him the body and then Dingemans quickly switches the questioning to what Paul Chapman was wearing. To abruptly change the conversation at a critical juncture like this is very suspicious - in fact Mr Dingemans would only do so if there was a good reason. It's not that is was wrong to ask such a question necessarily but you definitely wouldn't do so at that point unless there was something to hide.