South Swindon MP Robert Buckland explains that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act – passed nearly 30 years ago – needs be reformed so that families do not have to go through the same heart rending situation that the family of Becky Godden-Edwards has had to endure.
It is now more than a year since taxi driver Christopher Halliwell was jailed for life for the murder of Sian O’Callaghan, who he had picked up from outside a Swindon nightclub.
Wiltshire Police had successfully traced Halliwell’s vehicle and made a quick arrest. Halliwell led them to Sian’s body and pleaded guilty to her murder in court: an open-and-shut case.
Sadly, though, that was not the end of the story.
As police questioned Halliwell about Sian’s killing, he confessed to a second murder. Halliwell told Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher that he could lead him to the body of Becky Godden-Edwards who had disappeared in 2002. They went to a remote field north of Swindon where Becky’s remains were found.
So when Halliwell went to court for killing Sian, he was also charged with Becky’s murder.
But this time there was a problem. On the day Halliwell was caught, DS Fulcher had decided to act quickly, while his suspect was still cooperating. In doing so, he failed to take him straight to a police station to be interviewed under caution in the presence of a lawyer.
This procedure must be followed under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, otherwise known as PACE.
Because that law hadn’t been followed to the letter, the judge ruled that the evidence was not admissable in court.
It didn’t matter that Halliwell had confessed to the police and led them to Becky’s body, nor that DS Fulcher’s actions had given Becky’s family the answers they had sought for a decade. Halliwell was jailed for murdering Sian, but Becky’s murder remains officially unsolved.
More than a year on, Becky’s mother Karen is still fighting for justice, and it’s a fight I fully support.
Changes should be made to PACE so that investigating officers have more flexibility in the way they deal with suspects.
I arranged for Karen to meet the Police Minister Damian Green, and he is seriously considering reforms to PACE.
Such changes do happen – only last month Mr Green announced some amendments to the Act covering issues including the handling of terrorism suspects and the recording of interviews.
There is of course a balance to be struck between the rights of suspects, the interests of the public and the responsibilities of the police. There was good reason why PACE was brought in 30 years ago after the miscarriages of justice of the 1970s.
PACE is there to protect the police as much as the public. Without it, there could be a potential challenge to the way officers have behaved in every case, and the guilty might go free.
But we still need further changes to the strict rules which scuppered Halliwell’s conviction for Becky’s murder and have denied Karen the justice she deserves.
Ultimately, though, there is one person who holds the key to this.
Halliwell is already serving one life sentence. He could still tell the truth about what happened to Becky, so that her family can achieve the closure they so desperately need and deserve.
Pictured: Robert Buckland and Karen Edwards who is gathering 100,000 signatures on a petition to have PACE debated in Parliament. She has over 30,000 so far. Find out more and download a petition pack from Facebook: www.bit.ly/justiceforbecky. Photo: Richard Wintle www.calyxpix.com