The police officer in charge of leading the investigation into the murder of Lee McKnight has described the monumental task of bringing the six defendants to justice.
Cumbria Constabulary was notified by a local farmer in the early hours of July 24 last year that a body had been discovered in the River Caldew at Wreay, near Carlisle.
“Obviously, that results in a police response and the recovery of Lee’s body which presented a significant amount of trauma sustained by Lee,” said Detective Superintendent Dave Stalker, the senior investigating officer in the case.
“As a result of that, we then looked at which direction the inquiry was going to go. It is now being dealt with as a suspicious death and what is clearly the murder of Lee McKnight.
“Those initial stages are fast-paced and are about capturing evidence as quickly as possible. That resulted in the recovery of the CCTV which identified movement over the current time period of the black Navara which has been widely reported.
“The information linked to that black Navara led us to the household of the Edgars. When we entered the Edgars’ there were others present, some of which featured as part of the investigation.
“We had quite a significant crime scene process. Further investigation by a variety of means leads us to the next three participants, which was Paul Roberts, Arron Graham and Jamie Roberts, everybody gets arrested, we were able to secure charges.
“That results in what has been evidenced by a protracted investigation to prove the culpability of those involved.”
“Quite quickly it was apparent Lee had been the subject of a really horrific, consistent attack equally, that it had been perpetrated within 104 Charles Street,” said DS Stalker.
“And likewise, it had been a joint venture between Jamie Davison and others. And whilst it took a little bit longer to get to some of those individuals, they are all as culpable.”
After beginning the investigation in July last year, it was not until 11 months later that they managed to secure the convictions of Jamie Davidson, Carol Edgar, Coral Edgar, Paul Roberts, Arron Mark Graham and Jamie Lee Roberts.
“It commenced in July 2020 and 11 months later we got the outcome,” said DS Stalker. “From the outset, there was a significant amount of resource deployed to ensure we secured all of the available evidence.
“Over the course of the investigation, it involved in excess of 200 officers and staff at differing stages. Once charged the work continues and there was an established investigation team dedicated to working on the inquiry to bring justice for Lee.
“In those first few weeks officers and staff were drawn from across the constabulary and just about every area or asset we had contributed. That was because of the multitude of scenes that we were seeking to identify, secure and preserve.
“The trawl of CCTV, the review of data and evidence – it was a significant amount of resource.”
Unusual set of circumstances
The murder of Lee McKnight was the largest investigation in which DS Stalker has been the senior investigating officer. He has been a DS for the last four years. The officer described the probe as unique to Cumbria.
“This is an unusual set of events in terms of scale, severity and impact,” he said.
“There was a significant amount of resources that had to be deployed in those initial weeks to continue with the investigation. It was widely reported on and monitored within local news and then towards the end in the national media.
“We are fortunate events of this nature are not frequent. But despite that, I would hope that reassurance to the public is that when they do occur we will deal with them quickly and robustly in order to keep everybody safe.”
Praise for colleagues
DS Stalker thanked everyone involved in the investigation. He said: “And I’m just grateful that I had a really great team of dedicated officers and staff to support me and that is what has resulted in this outcome.
“Thanks goes to the officers and staff at the constabulary that have worked tirelessly over the last 10 or 11 months, to the public that during those periods of disruption have assisted us and provided us with key information that has enabled us to progress the investigation, our colleagues at the CPS prosecuting counsel for the manner in which they’ve presented the case and attained this outcome and to the jury who have had to sit through many weeks of evidence, have taken that on board, listened to what was put before them and provided this verdict.”