During the past few days I have been thinking long and hard about the Halliwell case. There has been a lot of unfair criticism of Wiltshire Police from certain quarters based upon misunderstanding, misleading information and factual inaccuracies.
As a result of the obvious emotions and complexities of this case the public criticism and unjustified challenge of Wiltshire Police was entirely predicted and expected but the Force made the ethical decision to maintain its position of not rising to the sensational and unsubstantiated claims and speculation.
We did this because we believed these sorts of claims would create a media frenzy and in turn lead to the families of people who have gone missing or tragically been murdered being re-traumatised and put into impossible positions. Their expectations, their feelings and their distress would be unnecessarily dragged once again into the media spotlight – this is something which I believe is unforgiveable, injudicious and insensitive.
This was reinforced to me when I spoke to the mothers of some of those named during the coverage of this case who told me they had been traumatised and distressed by this unfounded speculation involving their loved ones.
This case has raised a number of incredibly important ethical and legal challenges which is something we should all be conscious of as long as it is not borne out of personal or political agendas.
Before I address some of these issues, it is only right to pay tribute to the investigation team, excellently led by the Senior Investigating Officer Det Supt Sean Memory. Murder inquiries require a huge team of talented and properly trained individuals and it is always a team effort, not about one single person.
From the very moment that the evidence against Halliwell was deemed inadmissible in the voire dire by Lord Justice Cox – who was disparaging about the conduct of various elements of the initial police investigation – our colleagues have worked tirelessly with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to bring this case to justice.
After Halliwell’s evidence had been thrown out, this case created legal challenges which required a high-quality investigation, with a precise and a meticulous approach. As many in the legal profession will know, this type of case is incredibly difficult to bring before a court again when so much evidence has been discounted.
The skill and precision of our team, alongside the co-operation from the CPS, meant the prosecution team was able to successfully navigate through this judicial minefield and secure justice for Becky.
My fear, of course, was that the legislation and its interpretation would result in the case being thrown out once and for all. Much of the evidence obtained during the initial investigation was nearly thrown out in its entirety which would have seen a suspected serial killer walk free. If that had happened, we would be having a very different conversation about this case now.
Let me make it clear, the team which finally brought Halliwell to justice should be congratulated and commended as they undoubtedly brought this investigation from the edge of a precipice to a safe conclusion.
There has been much speculation in the press in relation to other women who may or may not have been a victim of Halliwell. This speculation is not helpful and is very distressing to the families involved. At this time Wiltshire Police has not uncovered any links between Halliwell and any other murders across the country.
There is also an assertion by commentators that Wiltshire Police did not liaise with other forces across the country to identify any potential links to Halliwell. This is also not the case.
As with all complex murder investigation with multiple strands, our teams have been working relentlessly. This has included obtaining 1,736 statements, generating and completing 3,546 actions, seizing more than 2,717 documents and cataloging 2,556 exhibits.
At the time of Halliwell’s arrest all forces were notified of the circumstances of both murders and the facts that were known at the time. This is in line with good investigative practice and recognised by Senior Investigating Officers across the country as appropriate action to take. Furthermore, engagement with the National Crime Agency (NCA) throughout ensured that this investigation was shared with other organisations accessing the NCA services for homicide enquiries.
A national database, run by Serious Case Analysis Section (NCA) was also notified. They hold all cases of homicide and analyse similar patterns. The national database ensures that all similar offences are shared.
In addition, the investigation was subject to an independent review by an outside force, which took place in 2015. At that time, no concerns were raised.
As I have said, the case has raised a number of issues, including the legislation relating to interviews. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) was introduced in 1984 and has been substantially amended, most recently modified by the Serious and Organised Crime Act 2005. In my view PACE was brought in to safeguard the police and protect the human rights of people who come into contact with the police.
I now have 32 years’ police service and am able to recall Judges’ Rules, which was the law that governed the police and their investigative procedures. It undoubtedly led to unethical behaviour by investigators and I believe led to miscarriages of justice. It is my view that this unregulated approach to police interviews led to police corruption which involved unscrupulous or inadequate interviewing practice, and corroded public confidence in the police. This is something we should never forget and should protect against at all costs.
PACE has been in now for approximately 30 years and has been amended and changed over time, in my view for the good, as it maintains ethical and lawful police investigative actions which in turn safeguards the rights of individuals. I believe that if the current legislation is ethically followed and delivered in line with the codes of practice, common sense can prevail and the right outcomes can be achieved without evidence being inadmissible.
It is of course a matter for Parliament, not the police, to decide upon the law of the day. But it is my view that if the public needs the law changed then police procedure will have to be reviewed. In the meantime I expect my officers to use the legislation legally.
Another important element of this case which causes me great concern is the assertion that officers who are lawfully audacious will not be supported by the Force. There is an inaccurate presentation of the facts in this particular case.
Following the ruling of Lord Justice Cox about the breaches of PACE during the initial investigation, the original charge relating to the murder of Becky was dropped. As a result a member of Becky’s family lodged a complaint against Wiltshire Police which was immediately referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The IPCC investigation concluded that a misconduct hearing should take place to consider potential gross misconduct by Steve Fulcher. This hearing was chaired by a Chief Constable and a panel from an outside Force.
Steve Fulcher was found guilty of two counts of gross misconduct and received two final written warnings, but remained employed by Wiltshire Police. He later made the decision to resign from the Force and chose not to appeal.
Finally, I want to say two things.
My first message is to the public. Wiltshire Police has an excellent reputation for keeping people safe. We are and continue to be one of the safest counties in the country. We remain committed and relentless in our mission to fight crime.
The second message is to my officers and staff. I have been an operational officer for well over half of my career and was a detective for much of it. Be lawfully audacious and I will support you. Do the right thing and I will support you. Remain ethical in your endeavours and I will support you. Follow the values and I will support you. Protect the public as best as you are able and I will support you. Why? Because it is the right thing to do and we are in this together.
Halliwell will no longer be a danger to the public following his whole life tariff sentence. My thoughts remain with the families and friends of Sian and Becky who have shown great dignity and strength throughout this case. This has been a difficult, emotive and challenging time for all parties involved and I hope that they are all now able to find some closure following his sentencing.
In closing, there has been some suggestion in the media that there are people out there with a dossier of evidence linking Halliwell to other murders. If anyone has any information they wish to share with us to assist with the ongoing inquiry, I would encourage them to make contact with us.