Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The three men in black

"The three men in black".  It sounds sinister.  On the morning of 18 July 2003 perhaps it was.  ACC Page made his second appearance at the Inquiry on the afternoon of 23 September and this is how he and Mr Dingemans discussed "the three men in black":

Q. In the course of your inquiries were you contacted by a person who suggested there had been three men dressed in black wandering around at the time that Dr Kelly's body was found?
A. Yes, I think both we and the Inquiry received a communication from a gentleman who expressed concern that he had noticed three individuals dressed in dark or black clothing near the scene where Dr Kelly's body was found. I am speaking from memory, but I think the sighting was at somewhere between 8.30 and 9.30 in the morning, something like that.

Q. Did you follow up that sighting?
A. Yes, we undertook some fairly extensive work. We got statements from all our officers who were at the scene and that was in excess of 50. We plotted their movements on a map and eventually were able to triangulate where the writer was talking about and identify three of our officers, so I am satisfied that I am aware of the identity of these three individuals.

In Annex TVP-4 on the Attorney General's website Mr McGinty also wrote on the subject under the title "Three Men in Black" 

There was much more detail in the McGinty piece:
  • The observer was a keen walker who was heading west along the bank of the River Thames
  • At about 10.30 am he noticed a helicopter arriving from the east and then circling above Harrowdown Hill.  He also noticed two police cars at Harrowdown Hill. 
  • The walker initially sees the three men in black from a distance of 300 - 400 metres and, at the closest, was about 100 metres from them.  They were walking alongside each other and in the direction of the river path.
  • The three all wore black trousers, two of them wore long sleeved black t-shirts and the third a lightweight black leather jacket.  None of them was carrying anything.
  • The walker returned to his car at about 1.20 pm where he informed a police officer about what he had seen 
  • He was interviewed by police and a statement taken.  A force wide appeal was made for any officer who thought he might have been one of the three males or who had seen them to come forward
  • The three men were identified as police officers engaged in the search operation
McGinty then gets very defensive about the presence of the men in black:

'It must be borne in mind that this sighting was an hour after the body of Dr Kelly was discovered and some nine hours after the latest time of death as defined by Dr Hunt.

'There is no obvious scenario of a third party involvement in Dr Kelly's death which would give rise to the suspicion that the three individuals seen at that time could be anything other than the officers engaged in the search operation.'

It's interesting that this Annex was produced when it demonstrated seeming incompetence on the part of ACC Page.  Page recalls that the sighting was somewhere between 8.30 and 9.30 in the morning, something like that. Now we are told it was at 10.30.  Is it really conceivable that an ACC would come to an Inquiry not knowing that detail?  Perhaps at the Inquiry there was a desire to make sure that the supposed sighting was before the official discovery of the body ... and Paul Chapman had already stated that the boat people had seen police at some point previously.  Frankly I'm struggling to believe that Page was so incompetent.

Page said that they took statements from all the officers at the scene and that numbered over 50. The McGinty version of events has TVP making a force wide appeal.  Perhaps it was after then that they identified the 50 plus at the scene.  If that part of Page's recall is correct then we know that he's now aware of exactly where everybody was at 10.30 because their positions were all plotted on a map and even some triangulation done to identify the three men in black. 

The observer was described by McGinty as a keen walker and as such was quite likely to have been carrying binoculars.  Certainly the description of the clothing worn by the men in black seen from a distance of 100 metres is very detailed, even to the extent of saying one was wearing a lightweight leather jacket.  The identification procedure followed by TVP seems excessively elaborate bearing in mind the very different clothing worn by the men in black compared with the more normal police garb.

Other points: the circling helicopter will be dealt with later.  I was interested to see that two police cars were visible at the time at Harrowdown Hill - they must have been identifiable as police cars rather than just ordinary vehicles, one could be the Franklin/Sawyer land rover (which looks to have been driven up to the field by the wood at about 10.30) but the identity of the second is a mystery.

I assume that the walker had parked at Newbridge where I'm sure there would have been a police presence by 1.20 pm.

McGinty goes a bit over the top in my opinion in disassociating the three men in black with Dr Kelly's death.  When he takes this approach then the alarm bells start ringing. 

One other thing to add is that the location of the sighting described in this post has been identified by another Kelly investigator as being north of Harrowdown Hill.  My next post will be about the two men in black seen to the north west of the Hill.



  1. This aspect intrigues me for two reasons.

    Firstly, at the time given by ACC Page originally (8:30-9:30) there were supposedly no search officers on the scene. PCs Franklin and Sawyer expected to be the first, and they arrived at about the same time as the ambulance crew (around 9:55). How could ACC Page have thought there were anything like 50 officers there before 9:30?

    Of course, we know that DC Coe and his two associates turned up unexpectedly at around 9:20, and nobody has said who sent them out. Maybe ACC Page knew of others (police or whoever) who have not been mentioned, causing confusion in his mind?

    Secondly, would the walker have reported the three men (not only to the police but also to the Hutton Inquiry) unless what they were doing, or something about their appearance or behaviour, had aroused suspicion? Would we have heard anything of this if he had reported only to the police, I wonder?

    The report was of a helicopter as well as the three men. How does the corrected time of 10:30 fit with the disclosed helicopter flight times?

  2. Interesting points raised!

    Regarding thge first point I was always bothered by Page's reference to 'in excess of 50' officers when referring to the 8.30 to 9.30 time span. Once a time of about 10.30 was revealed then the number might make more sense although Franklin and Sawyer deliberately give the impression that apart from the unexpected seeing of Coe the scene was remarkably quiet. But the paramedics painted an entirely different scene at their arrival. Louise Holmes talks of police and other personnel taking over the scene when she gets back to her car (I suspect that time was about 9.35).

    On the second point it's interesting that the sighting of the three men in black was also reported to the Inquiry, thus I think making it difficult not to mention it. I wouldn't have thought that it was something that the police were particularly keen to reveal. It does say in TVP 4 that 'the witness found their presence quite sinister'. Whether the men seen in the video in my following post about the two men in black were the same I don't know but they certainly don't look like people you would see on the average country walk!

    I need to do a post on the mid morning helicopter flight. The timings sort of fit if one remembers that the walkers time was at about 10.30 am. My thought is that the helicopter times should be reliable, the walker's timings less so, in as much as when you are out walking there isn't normally a necessity to know exactly what time it is at a given point.

    Back to the first point and Hutton shows no interest in the two officers in uniform seen with Coe by Franklin and Sawyer. Where did they appear from? Why didn't Hutton ask Coe when the latter appeared at the Inquiry two weeks later?

  3. Interesting video Brian, I note the balding man carrying a jacket and a man with his head down carrying a doctor type bag.

    I contacted Louise Holes friend in Hearing dogs for Deaf People(my father from Thurlestone was the West country secretary) and she relayed to me David Kelly was propped up against a tree. She did not see a water bottle, watch or knife at the scene. Louise is very nervous and attempts to speak with her directly have failed.

  4. If Louise was clear that she definitely didn't see a water bottle, watch or knife at the scene then that's very interesting. I had more or less assumed that she hadn't as she didn't mentioned them at the Inquiry and wasn't asked. I think that it's inconceivable that she would have missed them.

    I know Thurlestone though I never lived there!

  5. coiaorguk,

    I have been investigating this case for six years now and I have also found that nervousness is the norm amongst potential witnesses.