Boasting the lowest crime rate in the UK – barely one minor offence a week is committed there – the five inhabited islands with a population of 2,200 only need a police force of five.
But the dramatic halting of an inquest today has led shocked islanders to speculate whether the Scillies have suffered their first murder in more than 40 years.
It is a far cry from the normal offences of bad driving and petty theft which dominate the gossip on the islands – where the Scilly police Facebook page describes its role as “like Heartbeat but less frenetic.”
At first the death of beach bar tender Josh Clayton, 23, who came from Taunton in Somerset, seemed to be a tragic accident, a sad case of an intoxicated young man falling to the sea. But yesterday a coroner suspended an inquest after new evidence from a witness that Josh had been seen on the night he died “ranting and raving” at a group of foreign workers who had thrown his bike into a hedge.
The Clayton family’s barrister, Tom Leeber, said there was a “gap in the evidence”. He said “erroneous assumptions” that Josh had not been involved in an altercation “have resulted in an inadequate investigation.” He added the family had “no confidence” in Devon and Cornwall Police to conduct “an effective investigation”.
Josh was one of 43 people at a party at a building called The Shed on the picturesque island of Tresco; it was September 2015 and although the nights were still warm the holiday season was dying down. While one partygoer said Josh was “smashed” other friends claimed he was able to hold a conversation and was his “normal affectionate self.”
He seemed well above the drinking driving limit so when he tried to drive off in a golf buggy at 1.30am a friend stopped him. Fran Dudley told the inquest Josh was “frantic and desperate to drive”, saying he needed to get home because he was working at 7am. She told him to wait until she got a bike but when she returned, Josh had gone. His cigarettes and a phone charger were found nearby.
When he failed to turn up for work next day a huge search was launched – the biggest operation the islands had seen for decades. Normally police work there is uneventful – the last murder was in 1976 when an 18-year-old man with learning difficulties was killed by his father.The islands boast the lowest crime rate in the UK and need a force of just five police officers
But this time the Coastguard, police dogs, divers and a helicopter were called in, assisted by locals and holidaymakers. No trace was found of Josh until 11 days later when a French yachtsman spotted something on the rocks off the tiny uninhabited island of Tean, north of Tresco.
He radioed for help and a lifeboat recovered Josh’s body. His wallet, driving licence and credit cards were still in his pockets. At an inquest in Plymouth this week, Home Office forensic pathologist Dr Russell Delaney said it was possible Josh may have fallen into the sea or could have walked into the water.
He said Josh had not “suffered significant injury entering the water.” No illegal drugs were found in his system but he was 2.5 times over the driving limit.The coroner has suspended the investigation into Josh Clayton’s death after new evidence emerged
In a scene that could have come straight out of Silent Witness the pathologist added it was not possible to prove how Josh died because of the state of the body and said he had encountered cases where people had been “intoxicated lying on a beach and were taken away by the incoming tide.”
He said there were “no injuries to show he had been violently assaulted prior to his death. There were no major traumatic injuries.” But surprisingly, he said there were no signs of drowning.
“He might have fallen in the water. He could have walked into the water. Or lying on the beach and been taken into the water.”The 23-year-old was seen arguing with a group of foreign workers who threw his bike in a hedge
Then in dramatic cross-examination from Mr Leeber, the pathologist admitted it was possible John had been pushed into the sea.
The inquest also heard there was a blood stain on his T-shirt. Dr Delaney said no analysis had been done of the shirt which had been destroyed on the advice of the police. Mr Leeber suggested the blood may have been the result of an assault before Josh died.
For Josh’s family, the agony goes on because they are no closer to discovering the truth. His mother Tracey said: “It just keeps going round and round in your mind. You never expect this when you’re kissing your son goodbye, however old they are. It’s heartbreaking.”
Devon and Cornwall Police said last night it was the first time it had been made aware of the new evidence and “further investigations will be carried out as a result.”
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