Sunday, 5 August 2012

The search helicopter - evidence at the Inquiry

In my last post but one I had quoted that part of Mrs Kelly's evidence that dealt with one of her daughters calling the police a little before midnight and three officers arriving with a missing persons form.  She also stated: I explained the situation that David had been in and it seemed immediately to go up to Chief Constable level.  The three officers having arrived at her home her evidence continues as follows:

Q. Then it is referred up as far as you are aware?
A. Yes, it is referred up and the search begins. TheThames Valley helicopter had gone off duty by that time so they had to wait for the Benson helicopter to come across.
Q. That is RAF Benson, is it?
A. That is right.
Q. So the helicopter was involved in searching?
A. Indeed it was, and tracker dogs too, I believe.
Q. Could you hear the helicopter?
A. Yes, it came and the police switched on their blue light on their vehicles so it could pinpoint the position of our house, the starting point for David's walk.
Q. What time did the helicopter start searching, do you
A. It must have been about 1 o'clock. I am not sure.
Q. How many police were there then?
A. Certainly the three were there. I think they may have been joined by a couple more by this stage.

Hutton had just heard evidence from a non specialist about the use of a search helicopter.  It has to be asked why Mrs Kelly started talking about what helicopter was where when she wasn't even invited to discuss the helicopter.

There is this passing reference to the helicopter by Detective Sergeant Webb in his evidence the following day, DS Webb having arrived at the point of mentioning the uniformed sergeant who spent time at the Kelly home:

Q. What were you doing while you were at Abingdon police station?
A. I was briefed on what had gone on previously.
Q. Who by?
A. By various people, including a uniformed sergeant who had been -- who had spent the night with the Kelly family and who had originally taken the report of Dr Kelly's disappearance.
Q. Do you remember who that was?
A. His name was Sergeant Simon Morris.
Q. He had come back to the police station?
A. He returned to Abingdon police station and briefed those present of what had gone on during the night.
Q. What had gone on during the night?
A. As I understand it, they had done some searching of the
area, as much as they could possibly do in the dark.
Q. Who had done that?
A. Uniformed police officers.
Q. Do you remember how many?
A. I could not say at the moment.
Q. 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 it can be seen that DS Webb's knowledge about the helicopter is very much second hand and he provides little detail. 

The day after DS Webb gives his evidence and it's the turn of Assistant Chief Constable Page to make his first contribution to the Inquiry.  He describes getting called out and his subsequent actions:

Q. We have heard there was a report to the police at 11.40 on 17th July in the evening.
A. That is correct.
Q. When did you become aware of that report?
A. I received a telephone call at 3.09 am on Friday morning.
Q. So some four hours later?
A. Yes.
Q. Is it normal for a missing person report to get up to Assistant Chief Constable level as quickly as that?
A. Only where there are vulnerable or exacerbating factors to the missing person.
Q. What were those vulnerable or exacerbating
A. Well, all missing persons are subject to an assessment and the officers at the scene carried out an assessment.
Q. Do you know who the officer at the scene was?
A. Sergeant Morris.
Q. We have heard he was from Abingdon police station, is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. He carried out an assessment?
A. That is right, which rated Dr Kelly as a medium risk missing person. 
Q. What does that mean, is that a good or bad thing?
A. Neither good nor bad in many respects. But it raises our awareness of issues around that person and prompts us to take certain actions.
Q. What are those actions?
A. Normally the notification of the senior officer so that any specialist resources that are required can be obtained. In this particular case, that assessment was arrived at which prompted a call to the officer's area commander, as it would do.

Q. The area commander is what rank?
A. Chief Superintendent. She, on receipt of the information, coupled with her knowledge of Dr Kelly and the circumstances that surrounded him --
Q. She had watched the news?

A. She had watched the news and because he was a resident in her area, she was perhaps a little more aware of what was going on, and she decided that adding those circumstances to the standard assessment --
Q. The medium risk?
A. The medium risk raised it somewhat higher and she rang me almost immediately.
Q. That is why you get the call in the morning?
A. Absolutely.
Q. What did you do?
A. I listened very carefully to what had happened thus far and made my own assessment of the actions that had been taken.
Q. What had been done so far?

A. There had been a reasonably thorough search of Dr Kelly's house and the surrounding grounds.
Q. Who had done that?
A. That had been carried out by Sergeant Morris and officers from the night shift at Abingdon. They were later supplemented by a police dog which had been used to assist in the search. I do apologise for my voice.  So that search had been conducted at the scene. The police helicopter had also been called out and had been making intermittent searches around the area of the house using heat seeking equipment.

Q. So who had been responsible for calling out the police helicopter?
A. Sergeant Morris.
Q. Where is that helicopter based? We have heard it came from RAF Benson, is that right?
A. That is correct, that is where it is based.
Q. How many police officers were involved in the search?
A. At that particular time half a dozen.
LORD HUTTON: Just so that it is clear, I think what you said, Mr Page, this was a police helicopter?
A. It was a police helicopter, my Lord, yes.
MR DINGEMANS: Does it have anything that assists in finding people?
A. A number of items but the principal one in use on the night was heat seeking equipment.

Page gets it wrong ... it's the Luton helicopter, not the one based at Benson!

We now know from ACC Page that it was Sergeant Morris who called out the helicopter but no detail was provided as to when Sgt Morris made his decision, nor the times of the flights, nor the exact route taken during the seach. Answers eventually came from Freedom of Information requests.  

Sgt Morris was evidently a key person that night: he had called out the helicopter, visited Mrs Kelly and overseen a reasonably thorough search of the house and grounds.  Hutton failed to call him, not only that there was no witness statement from him on the Inquiry website. 

No comments:

Post a Comment