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The long road to justice.

Byline: By Angus Hoy Evening Gazette

It's taken three and a half years, but finally the men responsible for the brutal death of market trader Kalvant Singh, right, are all behind bars. Chief Reporter ANGUS HOY talked to the senior detective who ran them to ground

They ran, but they couldn't hide.

Chief Superintendent Mark Braithwaite is not the kind of policeman to leave a case unsolved.

In 2001, he had recently been appointed to Cleveland Police's dedicated murder squad, a dream posting for a career detective.

The scene which confronted him at Errol Street on the morning of August 8 would test his and his team's investigative skills to the limit.

Kalvant Singh had fallen to his death, pushed with such force that he plunged through a first-floor bedroom window into the yard below.

Inside the house, there was a scene of blood-spattered havoc where Michael Moody had been subjected to a savage beating - including having his head smashed into a glass fish tank - that left him needing life-saving surgery.

The trail then led officers to a seedy bedsit complex less than a mile away in Southfield Road where yet more gratuitous violence had been meted out.

Gradually, against the twilight backdrop of Middlesbrough's tawdry sub-culture of drugs and prostitution, a picture began to emerge of the people involved and the motives - or lack of them - for their orgy of violence.

Jonathan Crossling and Thomas Petch had fearsome reputations for violence, while George Coleman, their driver on the night, was a supplier of drugs to, among others, many of the town's working girls.

Lee Harrison, the son of well-known local businessman Tommy Harrison, was better known as a reggae DJ with no previous history of violence.

But he was there, both at Errol Street and Southfield Road, and in the eyes of the investigators that made him part of the joint enterprise which resulted in Mr Singh's murder.

Knowing who was there and proving it were two different things, however, and a mammoth and painstaking search began for the evidence needed to bring the guilty men to justice.

Standing in the way of the investigation were witnesses too afraid to come forward, memories blurred by drug use and the sort of witnesses - prostitutes, criminals drug dealers and the like - hardly guaranteed to convince a jury.

A further problem arose when it emerged that two of the key suspects - Crossling and Harrison - appeared to have fled the country.

At the centre of it all was the figure of Kalvant Singh, a 41-year-old market trader who simply had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Estranged from his wife, he had been picked up by vice girl Claire Burgess some hours before his death.

The pair had gone to the Errol Street home of Michael Moody who regularly let prostitutes use rooms in exchange for cash.

Burgess had taken drugs, the pair had had a hot drink before going to sleep upstairs, although there was no evidence of sex.

When Crossling burst through the bedroom door demanding to know where Craig 'Dalla' Dalziel was, he is believed to have been high on crack cocaine and simply vented his fury on a stunned Mr Singh.

Chief Supt Braithwaite remains unable to fathom the few minutes of madness which scarred so many lives forever.

"Kalvant Singh was killed, his children have been left without their dad, his family without their elder brother," he says.

"Michael Moody was critically injured and still suffers the effects of the attack on him and at least three other people were assaulted.

"On top of that a witness is in a long-term relocation programme, two relatively young men are serving life for murder and two others are serving 14 years and nine years for their part in what happened.

"It was such a complete waste of so many people's lives and I have asked myself many times: why? What on earth was it all for?"

Piece by piece the team built their case against the accused: specialist forensic experts from London spent more than a week using cutting-edge evidence-gathering techniques at the Errol Street house while vulnerable witnesses were given round-the-clock protection, with one now permanently relocated.

Months of hard work bore fruit in March, 2002, when Coleman and Petch were both jailed for life for murder at Newcastle Crown Court.

The judge, Mr Justice Turner, said the case was one of the most "sordid and degrading" he had ever dealt with and made a recommendation that Petch serve a minimum of 20 years.

If Crossling and Harrison believed the convictions meant Chief Supt Braithwaite would call the dogs off, they were sorely mistaken.

Crossling, sporting a beard by way of disguise, was tracked down in Benalmadena on Spain's Costa Del Sol with assistance from Interpol and just before Christmas 2002 Cleveland officers flew out to bring him back ahead of his trial the following June.

After a dramatic eleventh-hour guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter, he was jailed for a total of 18 years, later reduced to 14 on appeal.

Lee Harrison, the last of the four, was traced to Jamaica in November last year and Cleveland officers were dispatched in April to bring him back for trial.

Harrison too opted for a last-minute guilty plea to manslaughter after lengthy discussions with his legal team at Newcastle Crown Court.

Mr Braithwaite added: "It is without doubt the most challenging, complex and interesting investigation I have led.

"Every officer involved did a first class job, they stayed the course from day one and I would like to pay tribute to their skills.

"Most of all, however, I would like to think this case will act as a lesson to others minded to involve themselves in lifestyles like these.

"I would much rather have been able to put the considerable resources involved in this investigation into reducing crime generally and improving people's quality of life."
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Title Annotation:Column Friday Interview
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 17, 2004
Words:993
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