The Times, 10th December 1999
by Stewart Tendler
THREE police forces faced an investigation yesterday after an elderly church organist was allegedly abducted and died before armed officers could free him.
The Police Complaints Authority is to examine the way Sussex, Surrey and the Metropolitan Police investigated the alleged kidnapping of John Smith, a 72-year-old from St Leonards on Sea in East Sussex.
His body was found in a house in Islington, North London, on Wednesday evening, three days after he was reported kidnapped and more than 100 miles from his home.
Police were first alerted early on Monday morning, when a motorist saw a man trying to escape from a car on the M25 in Surrey. He tried to jump from the car, screaming and urging passing motorists to call the police. The motorist came from Sussex and the call was made to the local force. Sussex passed the details of the call to the Surrey force, which then took control of the investigation.
Mr Smith was tentatively identified, possibly from the registration number of his Jaguar car, and police went to his home in Magdalen Road, St Leonards, on Tuesday. They carried out house-to-house inquiries and provided intelligence for the Surrey team, including information about a London address.
Scotland Yard was alerted on Wednesday and a raid by officers from SO19, specialist firearms unit, was carried out on Wednesday night.
Mr Smith’s body was found in the Islington house. No explanation of the cause of death has yet been given.
Yesterday police were interviewing four males, including a juvenile, over the abduction and death. Two were arrested at the house in Islington where Mr Smith was found, and the others were held later.
During the alleged abduction no demands were made. One police source suggested that the dead man may have been linked to paedophile activity.
Mr Smith, who had no wife or children, had lived in St Leonards for 30 years, and was considered by his neighbours to be a gentleman.
One neighbour said: “The police came down our road doing door-to-door inquiries about Mr Smith being reported missing.
“I knew him as a close neighbour and used to say good morning and evening to him.
“He has lived in Magdalen Road for many years and did not appear to have any gangland-style connections.”
The neighbour said: “He was always polite and he treated everyone like a gentleman. He was liked by most people round here because he was so polite. I have no knowledge of anyone who might have had a grudge against him.”
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) said that the case had been referred to it by the three forces and would be investigated by Paul Blewitt, an assistant chief constable from the West Midlands force.
Molly Meacher, deputy chairman of the PCA, said the investigation would examine the entire handling of the case.
The inquiry would look at the way the three forces followed police procedures for joint investigations and whether their response was sufficiently timely.