Cornwall

Josh Clayton's mother blames police for 'three years of torment'

Josh Clayton Image copyright Family Handout
Image caption Josh Clayton disappeared from a party organised by the son of Robert Dorrien-Smith who leases Tresco from the Duchy of Cornwall

The mother of a barman who died on a private holiday island has filed a complaint against police, claiming they "botched" the investigation into his death.

Josh Clayton disappeared while working on the Isles of Scilly in 2015.

The 23-year-old's body was found 10 days later but not examined for another 15 days after that.

During the initial search officers clashed with the family and used a "diviner" to try to trace Mr Clayton.

An inquest that concluded on Wednesday ruled his death was an accident.

His mother Tracey Clayton said: "We can't let it go."

Mr Clayton, from Taunton, had been working on Tresco for six months when he attended a staff party and vanished in the early hours of 13 September.

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Media captionTracey Clayton: "The outcome of the inquest is meaningless"

Two Devon and Cornwall Police investigations have failed to find out what happened to him.

Documents seen by the BBC show that within hours of Mr Clayton failing to turn up for work, police had categorised him as an "alcohol or substance misuse" missing person.

Tests showed there was no trace of drugs in Mr Clayton's body and witnesses said though he had been drinking he was anxious to get home as he had to work early.

Mrs Clayton said officers assumed her son was a "drugged-up drunk who had just fallen into the sea".

"It is bad enough losing your youngest but the thing is, nobody gives a damn," she said. "Nobody cares enough."

Image copyright Clayton Family
Image caption Mrs Clayton said she almost wished she and her son were not so close because "now it wouldn't hurt so much"

Mrs Clayton's complaint listed 22 specific concerns including:

  • A 15-day delay between the body being found and the post-mortem examination
  • His body being transported between three hospitals and over 200 miles before the autopsy
  • The destruction of Mr Clayton's blood-stained T-shirt before any forensic tests
  • Mr Clayton's room being left insecure and not forensically examined for two years
  • A bike believed to have been ridden by Mr Clayton on the night, found damaged as if it had crashed, never being forensically examined
  • A van damaged on the night Mr Clayton went missing not being examined until 19 October 2017, after it had been repaired
  • Golf buggies damaged on the same evening never being examined
  • Police using a "water diviner" during the initial search
Image caption Mr Clayton's family has spent £73,000 on legal fees and on hiring a private investigator

An initial inquest into the death was halted in January 2017 after another partygoer, Leroy Thomas, changed his story and claimed Mr Clayton had been involved in a row.

Police reinvestigated but this week on Wednesday an inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death - but the family said they were no closer to knowing what happened.

Uncle Simon Clayton said: "We have got our suspicions because there's so much unexplained strange behaviour… the thing is they have trashed the evidence and we will never get closure.

"They just botched it and missed every forensic check that they could have taken."

The family have also complained about the conduct of police officers - including a detective who phoned Mrs Clayton to say her son had died, despite requests to deliver the news in person.

Image caption Mrs Clayton has tried to conduct her own investigation by contacting and questioning potential witnesses

Mrs Clayton has also claimed that during the initial search she complained to the police about their efforts, prompting one of the officers to confront the family in a pub where they were having a evening meal.

"We're just fighting all the time… I feel that we have been unfairly treated," she said.

"I think that people have been so engrossed in their own self-preservation that they didn't want to know the truth.

"I think Josh - as much as he meant the world to us - he is nothing to them, he is just a thorn in their side."

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During the inquest, pathologist Dr Russell Delaney, who carried out the post-mortem examination on Mr Clayton, said he did not think the 15-day delay made a difference to his finding of the cause of death being unascertained; however an expert has told the BBC such a time gap was "unheard of".

Professor of forensic medical sciences at Queen Mary University of London, Nikolas Lemos, said delay was "shocking" and "unforgivable".

He said the examination should typically take place within 72 hours and ideally within 24 hours.

"The body is already decomposing... and so you bring that body out of the water and then you let it rot for another 15 days? Now that's unheard of," he said.

"It is absolutely no surprise to me that after they subjected this poor man to these ridiculous delays and transfers in vans and morgues that they couldn't come up with a cause of death."

Image caption The Clayton family said the officers and volunteers involved in the search were "amazing"

Prof Lemos said it appeared the police had approached the evidence believing there was no foul play.

"When you go and look at something forensically it is not because you expect the world to be a nice place, it is because you expect criminal activity.

"You assume something bad happened and you hope that all of the evidence will point to the other reason - that nothing bad happened to Josh."

Det Ch Supt Steve Parker, who led the second investigation, said Devon and Cornwall Police acknowledged questions had been raised about the initial investigation.

But he said he was satisfied that there had been a comprehensive investigation.

"We kept an open mind throughout the investigation," he said. "There was no evidence of any suspicious activity or indeed any evidence of third party involvement in his death, and therefore no suspects were identified."

In relation to Mrs Clayton's complaint, he added: "The investigation into these matters is ongoing and to comment on these matters further at this stage would be inappropriate and unfair to those involved."

Three years on Mrs Clayton believes someone knows how her son died.

"We desperately need to know what happened to our Josh," she said. "I can't go to my death bed without knowing. I just can't."

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