Why won't Pete Doherty say who killed my son?


Last updated at 00:48 08 December 2007

The final, harrowing moments of Mark Blanco's life - at a party almost a year ago to the day - are captured on CCTV. The footage is now in the possession of his mother Sheila. One "frame", she says, left her particularly appalled.

The clock on the film is showing 12.50am, and her son is dying on the pavement after plunging 30ft from a balcony above.

Suddenly, a fellow partygoer emerges from the entrance of the block of flats in Whitechapel, in London's East End, almost steps over Mark's lifeless body, and runs off down the street - hand-in-hand with a female companion - before the ambulance and police arrive on the scene.

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Mark Blanco

"He didn't stop to see whether he could help, or even check on how bad Mark's injuries were," says Mrs Blanco, a music lecturer in her early 60s. "It's just callous and inhumane. It made me feel sick when I saw it. You wonder where people's souls are."

The person to whom her comments are directed is Pete Doherty. It's not the first time he has been criticised, of course, but surely never in such tragic or controversial circumstances.

Today, among the many unanswered questions about what really happened the night Mark Blanco died is whether the Babyshambles singer is guilty of anything more than just "callous and inhumane" behaviour in fleeing the scene.

This is something the police will now have to decide following the news this week that the investigation into Mark's death is being reopened, on the recommendation of the coroner.

Either way, Doherty's conduct at the party - held at the flat of one of his friends - will come under intense scrutiny.

Some of Scotland Yard's leading homicide detectives are working on the case.

They have already asked Mrs Blanco for the clothes Mark was wearing on the night he died. The items, she says, which were returned to her in sealed bags after her son's death, were never even subjected to forensic tests. It would be difficult to think of a more damning indictment of the original inquiry.

The dramatic developments might seem like a victory for Mark's family, who have been campaigning relentlessly for a fresh investigation. Mrs Blanco does not - cannot - see it in those terms.

There can be no "victory", after all, when you have seen your only son hooked up to tubes in hospital after receiving a call every parent dreads in the middle of the night. But she has certainly been vindicated.

"No suspicious circumstances" was the original police verdict into the tragedy in the early hours of December 3 last year.

"They reached that conclusion only a few hours after Mark had fallen," says Mrs Blanco. "The proof is here in black and white."

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Pete Doherty

Mrs Blanco picks up a piece of paper. It is, in fact, the official police log - or "incident printout" - of the night Mark died.

She has marked one entry, halfway down the page, with an asterisk. It says: "Crime scene can be closed. Statements have been taken from witnesses and there is no indication that this is suspicious."

The time is 04:19, four hours after Mark was found on the pavement.

However, at least one witness, it seems, hadn't been questioned at this stage: Pete Doherty, who had, apparently, already headed off to another party.

"Shortly after Mark died, I asked an officer if Doherty had been interviewed and he told me he was proving 'difficult to catch up with'," Mrs Blanco says.

"His response didn't really fill me with confidence and nothing that has happened during the past year has made me change my mind. To be honest, I feel I was completely let down by the police."

In fact Doherty, she insists, was not interviewed until at least December 7 - four days after the fateful party.

Under different circumstances this might not have mattered, but we now know Mark Blanco had a confrontation with Doherty and two of his friends shortly before he was discovered with head injuries in the street outside.

Did the police reach their conclusion that there were "no suspicious circumstances" too soon? Everything we have learned so far would seem to point to that.

The coroner must have thought so. He dramatically halted the inquest into Mark's death in September and called for the Metropolitan Police to "review and reopen the investigation".

It has now been assigned to the Specialist Crime Review Group, a team of experts dedicated to cracking hard-to-solve serious crimes.

Apart from Mark's clothes, they have also asked Mrs Blanco to hand over other evidence (including legal letters) from the dossier she has put together. So far, she has spent £20,000 on her own inquiries.

The results were spread out on a table at her home in Guildford, Surrey, when she spoke to the Mail.

Somewhere in the mass of transcripts, witnesses statements and photographs are the clues she is convinced hold the key to the truth about her son's death.

"Losing a child is painful enough but when the circumstances are so mysterious it is even harder to come to terms with," she says.

"It's a tragedy which has been compounded by the shortcomings of those responsible for finding out how it happened.

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pete doherty

"Things are being done now which should have been done as a matter of routine at the time."

How could she - how could anyone - have imagined what lay in store when she turned up at the Royal London Hospital at 4.30am on December 3. Mark was in a coma in intensive care. She "squeezed his hand" but he never regained consciousness.

"When I was contacted by the police," she says, "I immediately rang the hospital. I said: 'Is he going to die?'" and they told me he was very poorly. I had already tried to prepare myself for the fact he might not survive, but I never suspected for one moment that I would spend the next year trying to find out how he died."

Mark was just 30, and a Cambridge University philosophy graduate who had worked as an antiquarian bookseller and an IT analyst, without ever settling into a career.

More recently, he had got the acting bug and had been rehearsing for a role in a production at a well-known theatre pub in the East End, the George Tavern. Had he not been, he might still be alive.

It was at the George that Mark found out Pete Doherty and his circle were at a flat nearby owned by Paul Roundhill, sometimes described as Doherty's "literary agent".

Mark knew Roundhill but not Doherty. Just after midnight, he arrived at the third-floor flat with bottle in hand, determined to persuade Doherty to come to the play's opening.

Mark went in but left the party at 12.25am. At 12.27am a security camera in the street showed him re-entering the block.

Two minutes later, at 12.29am, he was lying unconscious in the street below an open balcony on the stairwell of the building.

Those are the brief, brutal facts about the death of Mark Blanco. Behind them are a cast of unsavoury characters (apart from Pete Doherty), conflicting stories, a "confession" subsequently withdrawn, and a police investigation which has now been called into question.

Almost from the outset, the police seemed to have been convinced there were only two possibilities - it was an accident or suicide. One theory put forward by the officers was that Mark had been trying to clamber down from the balcony via a lamppost. This was dismissed as "purely speculation" by the coroner.

In fact, Mark would probably have had to have been an Olympic gymnast, or drunk, or high on drugs, to attempt such a dangerous prank. The lamppost was situated 5ft away from the balcony, with a 30ft drop underneath. A post mortem revealed Mark had not been drunk, nor was he high on drugs.

Moreover, Mark suffered from vertigo. "He had a crippling fear of heights," says his sister Emma, 26. "I'd recently booked theatre tickets high up in the circle. Mark lasted two minutes before having to switch seats because he felt so sick."

The coroner also ruled out suicide. "He would never have tried to take his own life," Emma insists, a view shared by everyone who knew him. "The week before, he'd been full of energy and enthusiasm about finally getting the chance to perform on stage."

The landlady of the George Tavern, whose statement forms part of Mrs Blanco's dossier, also says Mark was in "good spirits" when he left the pub for the party.

This leaves a third possibility, of course. The flat where the party was held was a notorious hang- out for drug users. Six people were there when Mark arrived - Doherty, his "literary agent" Paul Roundhill, the singer's minder Johnny "Headlock" Jeannevol, and three women.

It has now emerged, from inquest papers and police witness statements, that Mark Blanco was not welcome.

Accounts of what happened vary, but it seems Mark tried to get Doherty to promise to go and see the play, at one point holding him against a wall, arms outstretched each side of Doherty.

It ended with Doherty asking Jeannevol to "have a word" and Roundhill ejecting Mark Blanco from the flat. He resisted by clinging to the door frame, but was eventually forced to leave. The time was now 12.25am. Four minutes later, Mark Blanco was lying unconscious on the pavement.

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Pete Doherty

Was he alone when, having returned to the building, he ended up on the balcony in the communal stairwell?

Police claim it was "highly probable" that he was.

But neighbour Lukman Hussain cast doubt on this assertion. "At around 12.30am I heard movement again on the stairwell," he says in his police statement.

"I didn't hear any voices but it sounded to me as if the movement of people on the stairwell involved more than one person.

"I can't be certain whether the sounds I could hear were of people going up the stairwell or down, but I then heard a very loud thump come from directly outside my window.

"I got up and opened the curtains, and I saw a man lying on the pavement immediately outside... I thought he must have been assaulted."

Mr Hussain was only called to give evidence at Mark's inquest at the insistence of solicitors acting for the family. Nor, indeed, was there any mention in the police report to the coroner of the astonishing confession made by Doherty's minder Johnny "Headlock" Jeannevol.

On Christmas Day, he walked into Bethnal Green police station and confessed to killing Mark Blanco. He was locked up, but later retracted what he had said, claiming he was "off his head", and was allowed to go home.

He stuck to one part of his story, however. He confirmed Doherty had asked him to "have a word" with the unwanted guest. It was Jeannevol, it now emerges, who also made the 999 call requesting an ambulance for Mark shortly before his pal Pete Doherty was seen running away from the scene.

A transcript of the call reveals Jeannevol pretended Mark Blanco was a stranger whom he and his friends did not know.

When he was asked what had happened, he replied: "We don't know. We don't even know him. We don't even know him."

It is easy to forget, of course, that at the centre of it all is a much-loved son, brother and friend. More than 40 people turned up to say their goodbyes to him at the hospital.

"With all the time and energy spent trying to disentangle the facts of the case, it's only as the first anniversary of his death has come round that I've been able to finally start to grieve and reflect on how his death has affected me,' says his sister Emma, a professional violinist.

"I still haven't got over the sight of him lying there in hospital, knowing that he would never wake up.

"My emotions are more raw now. Little things can make me hysterical - smelling Mark's aftershave on the tube, passing someone who is wearing a similar hat to his."

All she wants, all her mother wants now, is the truth.

"I don't feel anything towards Pete Doherty or his friends,' says Mrs Blanco. 'But I believe they can help us get to the truth, and that is all I want."

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