A forensic audiologist who listened back to surveillance tapes from a kebab shop owner who was suspected of murdering a teenage girl claims the top investigator on the case was ‘biased’ when she wrote down transcripts.
Speaking in the second instalment of the Channel 5 documentary The Murder of Charlene Downes, Elizabeth McCelland says police bias influenced the written recordings of surveillance tapes during the investigation into the disappearance of 14-year-old Charlene in Blackpool in 2003.
She there was ‘no phonetic or linguistic support’ for their interpretation of the tapes.
Iranian kebab shop owner Mohammed Reveshi and Iyad Albattikhi were the prime suspects in the investigation into the teenager’s disapperance, but no physical evidence linked them to the crime.
Police believe that Charlene, pictured, was murdered and cut up before being served as kebab meat after being lured into a gang and groomed for sex
Detective sergeant Jan Beasant listened to recordings of Iyad Albattikhi and Mohammed Reveshi. They were later suggested to be ‘wholly false’ by John Bromley Davenport QC
Acting on strong suspicions that Reveshi and Albattikhi were guilty, police forces bugged Reveshi’s house and car with listening devices in the hope of finding something incriminating.
They monitored his and Albattikhi’s conversations for four weeks and recorded 52 tapes. These were later transcribed by Detective Sergeant Jan Beasant, who volunteered to listen to them.
When the case went to court, the transcripts were the only evidence the police had to get Reveshi and Albattikhi convicted.
However, a forensic audio expert who’s listened to the tapes for the documentary says Beasant’s transcripts was heavily biased.
Forensic audiologist Elizabeth McCelland (pictured) says that DS Jan Beseant was too implicated in the investigation into the disappearance of Charlene Downes to transcribe audio tapes without bias
It is because of the recordings that the public heard Charlene had been ‘chopped up’ and served as kebab meat.
The horrifying rumour that Charlene’s body was disposed of in the mincer stemmed from the transcripts, however there is no solid evidence to believe the teenager met this grisly fate.
Charlene’s family, who were at the trial, had to sit through the tapes being played with subtitles and to this day believe their daughter met a horrible death.
‘The audibility of the recordings was very problematic,’ explained Don Fraser, the detective on the Charlene Downes case, who described it as ‘very, very poor’.
Notes from Beseant’s transcripts from the 52 audio tapes that were recorded by police forces. She spent 18 months transcribing
‘Unfortunately, the specialist team placed at least one of the microphones close to a television.’ The television participated in further confusion regarding what the microphones were actually recording.
The transcript of a tape numbered ‘925979’ indicated that Reveshi asked: ‘Why did you kill her,’ before Iyad replied: ‘You’re being stupid if you thought we’d released her.’
‘I listened to those tapes for 18 months,’ recounts Detective Sergeant Beasant. ‘I knew them inside out.
‘I was given expert status so I could deliver the evidence at court on behalf of prosecution to identify those key incriminating conversations that implicated both Reveshi and Albattikhi.’
Beasant mentions a particularly incriminating conversation where Reveshi is ‘feeling the stress’ of the investigation.
The transcript of said situation reads: ‘Reveshi: “They just took everything you see, the whole, you know they obviously they will find something here.’
McCelland said she did not hear the sentences Beseant picked up from the tapes, and offered her own alternatives to point out how easily it would be to create a totally different transcript
‘Yesterday morning I thought “maybe something is on,” I go and check the burial place’ the transcript goes on.
Forensic audiologist McCelland had a go at listening to the tapes herself, and says the transcript submitted by Beasant was ‘potentially very misleading’.
‘It’s extremely important that when recordings are being transcribed, that the person doing the task is objective, that they don’t already have very strong views or indeed any views at all about how far that evidence is going to be used to support a case,’ McCelland explains.
‘In this instance, the police officer transcript showed several signs that she had been subject to confirmation bias, which is the technical term for being influenced by the events which she had investigated.’
She adds: ‘The fact that DS Beasant had been one of the main officers on the case, collecting evidence, making arrests and conducting interviews meant that she could not possibly produce transcripts in which confirmation bias was not going to be a factor.’
Detective Don Fraser says Jan Beasant was very keen to find out what happened to Charlene and volunteered to transcribe the tapes
Listening to the tapes herself, McCelland says: ‘You won’t hear burial place on this, I doubt that it’s there.’
Listening to the recordings Beasant identified as being particularly incriminating, McCelland offers her own possible transcription and says that instead of ‘burial place’, Reveshi actually says ‘as quickly as I can’, which changes the sentence completely.
‘It’s not burial place, I’m sure it’s not,’ McCelland says. ‘Burial is three syllables – there are no three syllables there.
‘It’s a classic case of cognitive priming, where because everybody has been told that it’s what these words are, that is what they’re hearing.’
McCelland expresses further doubts about Beasant’s transcripts and offers alternatives for all of the sentences writtend down to highlight how none of the tapes can be transcribed with certainty.
Reveshi, pictured, stood trial at Preston Crown Court but the jury failed to reach a verdict and a retrial was dropped due to lack of evidence
McCelland also points out that Beasant left information out of the transcript, like an occurrence where a TV was playing in the background of a conversation between the two men.
‘It’s edited evidence,’ she says. ‘It’s been redacted, pre-redacted, by Jan Beasant.’
But listening to the tapes once again for the documentary, Beasant says she’s still hearing what she put down on the transcript.
In an interview for the documentary, Reveshi recalls listening to the tapes for the first time, and says: ‘I thought, “I never said anything like that, where is it all coming from?”‘
The kebab shop owner listened back to the tapes and created his own transcript and kept boxes with information on the case for years to ‘get to the bottom of this’ and build his defence.
The case against Reveshi and Albattikhi relied on a key testimony by a man called David Cassidy, who told the police he had been informed Charlene had been killed and her body put in six bin bags.
However, the police case against the two men fell apart after an audio recording of a conversation between Cassidy and Albattikhi’s brother Tarik resurfaced. The tapes were thought to have disappeared, but were eventually uncovered.
In the tapes, Tarik is heard denying that his brother was part of the killing and refusing to comment further.
The mystery surrounding Charlene Downes’ disappearance remains unsolved to this day.
The Murder of Charlene Downes is a three-part documentary on Channel 5. Part two and three will air today (May 22) and tomorrow (May 23) at 9pm.
The police investigation into Charlene Downes’ murder
Charlene Downes, 14, had been a victim of child sex gangs in Blackpool, many of them centred on takeaway restaurants.
Police believe she was sexually abused by as many as 100 men in the run-up to her death.
In 2007 two business partners were tried for murdering Charlene and disposing of her body using a mincing machine, before putting it into kebabs.
However, a jury failed to reach a verdict and the case collapsed. Iyad Albattikhi and Mohammed Reveshi later received six-figure compensation sums for false imprisonment.
In 2013, to mark the tenth anniversary of Charlene’s disappearance, police announced they had appointed a dedicated full-time senior investigating officer to the case.
In 2016 a cold case team revisited the investigation and discovered CCTV footage of Charlene walking with her sister Rebecca on the day she vanished.
It was finally released on the 13th anniversary of her disappearance in November 2016 and again for a fresh appeal on the BBC’s Crimewatch Live Roadshow.
Last year, a 51-year-old man was arrested after being first quizzed by police in the year she went missing. Over the years, police have made five arrests on suspicion of Charlene’s murder but all have been freed without charge.