Murder probe delay referred to IPCC
A police force has referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over delays in identifying the death of a notorious criminal as a possible murder.
The body of John "Goldfinger" Palmer, 64, was discovered by his family at an address in South Weald, Brentwood, on June 24 and Essex Police initially recorded his death as not suspicious, believing his death was the result of complications following a recent heart operation.
But a post-mortem examination carried out on Tuesday determined the cause of death was gunshot wounds to the chest.
Today Essex Police said it had asked the IPCC to investigate possible failings.
A spokesman said: "Police and paramedics who attended the scene initially assessed the death as non-suspicious due to pre-existing injuries due to recent surgery.
"Closer inspection raised doubt and a post-mortem examination was conducted to establish the cause of death."
Palmer was cleared of handling proceeds from the £26 million Brink's-Mat bullion raid at Heathrow in 1983, but his alleged involvement earned him the nickname "Goldfinger".
His home is in a secluded spot down a country track about half a mile from the nearest main road.
This morning police officers could be seen inspecting the property and a police cordon was in place, including around an area of woodland outside the home's perimeter.
There are no neighbours in the immediately vicinity of the property but a resident of one the nearest houses said: "We had no idea there was any police activity until we saw the reports.
"We knew him by reputation and knew he lived there but it is a very quiet spot and we didn't see much of him or his family."
Former Metropolitan Police chief John O'Connor accused Essex Police being "utterly incompetent".
He told the Sun: "When someone as notorious as John Palmer is discovered dead on your patch then surely it's common sense to be absolutely sure of the facts about how he died.
"But one minute these bunglers were saying it was natural causes then almost a week later it's suddenly murder. What a joke.
"It's one of the most terrible mistakes in policing I've ever heard of."
Detectives would be "days behind" in the investigation and may have "completely lost the crime scene", he added.
Mr Palmer was jailed in 2001 for timeshare fraud, after building a multimillion-pound business that cheated thousands of Britons who wanted a holiday home in the sun.
He had spent the last eight years on bail following his arrest in Tenerife in 2007, where he was charged with fraud, firearm possession and money laundering.
Detective Chief Inspector Simon Werrett, who is leading the murder investigation, said: "My team would like to speak to anybody who was around Sandpit Lane between 4pm and 6pm on Wednesday June 24. The area is rural but is often used by dog walkers and joggers.
"Did you see any people or suspicious vehicles in the area? Did you witness anything out of the ordinary?"
He added: "Officers are at the scene making enquiries and I would urge anyone with information, no matter how small, to come forward."
Anyone with information should contact Essex Police on 01245 282103.