Dad-to-be Lee Sheppard disappeared from his night shift without a trace, leaving all his possessions behind and five years later, new evidence emerged with some shocking results
The mystery disappearance of a dad-to-be who vanished while working on a night shift has been revealed, as an inquest jury rule he was crushed by a 40-ton machine.
Detectives had been left baffled by Lee Sheppard’s vanishing act since he went missing at the European Metal Recycling plant in Harlesden, North London in 2003.
Police officers failed to gather DNA evidence in the plant’s fridge recycling chamber after failing to realize how dangerous the chamber was to staff.
It contained nitrogen gas and a crusher that could crush ten fridges at a time, which, eight years later, led an inquest to believe that Supervisor Mr Sheppard, 26, was gassed before being crushed by the machine.
At the time, police speculated that Mr Sheppard had run away or been the victim of foul play away from his factory.
Theories included him leaving the plant early in search for sex, being abducted or falling off a railway bridge.
Despite their guesses, Mr Sheppard’s body has never been found.
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Five years after his disappearance, Mr Sheppard’s family hired a private eye to investigate old details from the event.
The shocking revelation of his death began to emerge five years later when Mr Sheppard’s family hired a private eye to investigate old details from the event.
Police were persuaded to review all the original evidence and, in the absence of any forensic clues, jurors at North London Coroners Court in Barnet recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Mr Sheppard was found to have died in the 40-tonne fridge crusher that night, just five days after his wife discovered she was pregnant with their first child.
Using entirely circumstantial evidence, the jury found that Mr Sheppard died from asphyxiation at the plant some time between 2.30am and 9.15am on January 31, 2003.
He never clocked out of work, he left his possessions there and his bank accounts had not been touched since he disappeared.
Some staff were very evasive when colleagues wondered where he could be, the inquest heard.
The family heard that the last person to see Mr Sheppard alive was his Ukrainian work colleague Dmytro Oliferenko, some time after 2am on his night shift.
He gave police vital new evidence after being re-interviewed, revealing that the plant’s recycling chamber had malfunctioned on the night of Mr Sheppard’s disappearance.
Mr Oliferenko, who was reluctant to speak to police in 2003 because his immigration status meant he was not legally allowed to work for the firm, told how a blockage occurred in the chamber after Mr Sheppard went missing.
He added that nobody wanted to check what was inside, agreeing with barrister James Maxwell-Scott when he asked: “The reason you were scared is, in the back of your mind, you thought the blockage might have been Lee’s body?”
Mr Oliferenko said: “We all started to think where Lee might be and thought he might have gone into the crusher.”
He confirmed that the chamber’s de-gasser was not working and that work stopped at 10.10pm because of the malfunction.
Anyone entering the chamber in order to fix it could have been knocked unconscious and then crushed.
During his police statement, he also said that staff would sometimes climb into the chamber, but later denied that this happened in his evidence to the inquest.
Speaking after the verdict, Mrs Sheppard said: “We are very pleased and believe the right verdict was reached.
“There has been no plan for civil action. We will be talking to our lawyers about that.
“It has not quite sunk in yet because it has been eight long years. But this has definitely brought closure.
“We needed to put pressure on the police over here. We were desperate.
“We used Mr McQuilter to apply pressure, and DS Goodwin re-investigating witnesses got us to where we are today.”
The family criticized the original police investigation as inappropriate and “lacking in vigour”.
Mr Sheppard’s brother Brent said: “On reflection after a year or two, we did not feel the case had been handled appropriately or with enough vigor and energy.
“Getting this verdict and seeing the work put in by DS Goodwin has restored our faith in the system.”
Det Sgt Goodwin told the inquest: “I have been humbled by the Sheppard family.
“Their desire for an answer to Lee’s disappearance has motivated me.
“Lee will never experience the joy of fatherhood that filled him with such happiness in those brief days since he had discovered that Juliet was expecting their first child.
“Jaden will never know his father. I hope that the conclusion of this inquiry allows the family some closure.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.