Revelations about the death of a top policeman on Wales’s highest peak raise a series of questions which will feed the rumours and conspiracy theories surrounding the death of a man charged with investigating the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ activities in the UK.
The late Michael Todd
Michael Todd died about 90m (290ft) below the summit of Snowdon earlier this month. Subsequent revelations about his private life and a number of allegations of extra-marital affairs lent mystery to a high profile death on one of Britain’s most popular mountains. But details revealed by a mountain-rescue leader involved in the operation to recover Mr Todd’s body shroud his demise in further mystery.
From the outset, Michael Todd’s possible disappearance on the north Wales mountainside was treated very differently from the usual mountain incident. That’s according to Peter Walker, of Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, who told the Daily Mail: “The fact is we were called in too late. Normal mountain rescue procedures were not followed. If we had been alerted earlier I believe we might have saved his life.”
Mr Walker said only a small team – three men and a search-and-rescue dog – were sent on to the mountain, in contravention of the usual search technique which would have meant mobilising a large group of rescuers.
The initial search for Mr Todd, following the receipt of worrying text messages from his phone, was carried out by police officers from Greater Manchester Police, the force Mr Todd headed, despite being in the territory covered by North Wales Police.
Incredibly, the police chief had parked his vehicle right next to Mr Walker’s home in Llanberis. He said that normal search techniques involve finding the casualty’s car. If he had been informed of Mr Todd’s vehicle details, he could have poked his head out of his front door and identified it. His neighbours were interviewed at length by officers he said were from Greater Manchester Police about Mr Todd’s Range Rover. Officers from the North Wales force also interviewed residents of Llanberis.
Mr Walker’s version of the rescue is contradicted by one of his colleagues, the Llanberis MRT secretary Ian Henderson, who was also involved in the recovery of the chief constable’s body. He told The Sun it was too difficult to say if the chief constable could have been found alive if information had been received earlier.
He said: “We just don’t know. Mr Walker’s view is certainly not one expressed by the team. Normal procedures were followed from the outset.”
The search efforts of the police were at first concentrated in the Port Dinorwic area on the Menai Strait, 15km (9 miles) from where his body was eventually found. Police tried tracking his location by triangulating signals from his mobile phone.
Mr Henderson said: “It would appear the phone can be in one place and show up somewhere else. Mr Todd had his mobile with him on the mountain.”
Yet it is well known in mountain-rescue circles that mobile phone signals are notoriously difficult to pin down. Radio signals in hilly areas echo from the surrounding slopes and cause false readings. One rescue in the Lake District was launched on Blencathra when, in fact, the missing person was in Langdale.
The search for Mr Todd switched to Snowdon after the discovery, the day following his disappearance and the calling off of the limited search, of some of his personal items by two young walkers near the Bwlch Glas. Unusually, they were airlifted by helicopter so police could interview them.
A full search team was then put on to the mountain, and told they were looking for ‘a VIP’.
While conducting the search, in appalling weather, Mr Walker said a Chinook helicopter twice attempted to land at the rescue site, but was unable to complete a landing. RAF search-and-rescue crews use Sea King helicopters, not Chinooks, which are large, twin-rotor craft used for troop and equipment movement. In June 1994, an RAF Chinook crashed into the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland, killing its crew of four and all its 29 passengers, nearly all of whom were top Northern Ireland intelligence officers.
Mr Walker also told the Daily Mail that, when Mr Todd’s body was finally brought down by stretcher to the roadside: “Men in dark suits were swarming all over the place. They were not in uniform. We took it they were spooks – Government agents. They weren’t normal plainclothes detectives, and they didn’t introduce themselves to us.”
He also revealed that, for unknown reasons, Mr Todd had a bottle of champagne in his rucksack when his body was discovered, and that a half empty bottle of gin was found close to his body, which was face down in a snowdrift. Mr Henderson said there was no champagne and that, although there was a Chinook in the area, it played no part in the rescue, nor did it interrupt the operation.
Both Greater Manchester Police and North Wales Police refused to comment during the coroner’s investigation into Michael Todd’s death