MURDER squad detectives from the Metropolitan Police are set to review the death of a man who was found with his head wedged in a cement mixer nearly 15 years ago.
The death of Lee Balkwell, 33, at Baldwin’s Farm, South Ockendon, in July 2002, is one of the county’s most controversial unsolved homicides and Lee’s father, Les, has fought for justice ever since the incident.
Ruled a tragic accident, one man was cleared of manslaughter by negligence after a trial in 2014 - but allegations of murder and police corruption have kept the case in the public eye.
The Echo can now reveal that a year-long cold case review by a crack team of former senior homicide detectives has led to the Met Police becoming involved in the probe.
Mr Balkwell, 70, said new evidence came to light after a successful High Court action in December that forced Essex Police to hand over documents from the original investigation.
These were passed to detectives at the Essex-based TM-Eye detective agency, who had already spent six months reviewing the case.
Mr Balkwell and the agency’s boss Dave McKelvey met with Police and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst on March 17 to discuss the case.
Mr Hirst is understood to have ordered Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh to take action, prompting a request for assistance from the Met.
Mr Kavanagh is already the subject of a misconduct probe by Devon and Cornwall Police into allegations, made by Mr Balkwell, that the force has failed to investigate claims of police corruption linked to Lee’s murder.
The Echo understands the Met were called in late last week and discussions are underway about the terms of reference for a new probe.
Mr Balkwell said: “We are just trying to fight for justice for Lee, it’s what we’ve always done. I’m quite happy about it - as long as it’s done properly and TM-Eye are fully brought in to it.
“They have brought it about by their perseverance, and I want to thank them for it.”
The new evidence is understood to include photographs showing what appear to be burn marks on Lee Balkwell’s arms, police interviews with witnesses and CCTV footage.
A spokesman for the Met Police said: “We can confirm the MPS has received a request for assistance from Essex Police in connection with the death of Lee Balkwell.
“At this very early stage the matter is being assessed by detectives from the Met’s Specialist Crime Review Group.
An Essex Police spokesman said: “We have no further comment to make on this case at this time.” A spokesman for Mr Hirst declined to comment.
Controversy rumbles on after police failings, guns and drugs probe at farm
AN INQUEST found Lee Balkwell was cleaning dried cement from the inside of a cement mixer late at night when his employer, Simon Bromley, entered the cab to rotate it.
For reasons unknown, Lee decided to get out while it was turning and was killed.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) later found there were serious failings with the way the case was handled. Investigating officers failed to collect clothes and other items from the scene. Lee’s clothes were burnt the following day and his belt was washed.
The IPCC also found statements were not taken, no phone records were obtained and police had failed to be “open-minded” about Lee’s death.
Detectives launched a covert murder enquiry in 2005 but found no evidence to support a theory that Lee was killed due to a “domestic” issue.
The following year an undercover operation into drug dealing and firearms led to convictions for Simon Bromley and his father David.
Simon Bromley got eight years for supplying drugs and selling £28,400 of cocaine to an undercover officer. David Bromley got three years for conspiracy to supply cocaine.
In 2012, Simon Bromley was arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter. In October 2014, Simon Bromley was jailed over a cannabis farm but cleared of manslaughter.
Essex Police admitted failings in the investigation in 2015 and issued an apology to the Balkwell family, paving the way for a High Court action in December. The family won disclosure of documents and accepted £40,000 in damages.