The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report into the investigation of the murder of Becky Godden makes for further depressing reading for Wiltshire Police. Their statement makes it clear that before 2014 investigators missed elementary lines of enquiry. Whether they would have hastened the arrest of Halliwell will never be certain.
Here are a few personal thoughts about how this happened. In my experience, failures of this nature arise from several contributing factors rather than a single cause.
My views come with a health warning. I was not involved in this murder investigation. I know many former colleagues who participated and have spoken with some of them. My opinions are based on my experience in running and managing murder investigations.
The complaint made against Wiltshire Police named three specific officers. The IOPC would have been working to specific terms of reference setting out the parameters of their investigation. The IOPC has also commented on broader organisational issues rather than just the actions of these three officers.
One of those officers is Kier Pritchard, the current Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police. At the time of the initial investigation in 2011, he was the Head of Wiltshire CID. He later became Assistant Chief Constable and his actions contributed to the conviction of Halliwell. He has issued a fulsome apology. I doubt this will bring any comfort to Becky Godden’s family.
In his statement, Kier Pritchard refers to “confusion at the time concerning the oversight of the investigation into Becky Godden’s murder”. It is a telling comment. I need to provide some insight into police procedures extant at that time before explaining further.
The Chief Constable retains overall accountability for the conduct of a murder investigation as well as dealing with broader strategic issues such as community confidence.
National guidance stated, “Chief officers have an important leadership role and are responsible for ensuring that major crimes are investigated to a high standard”. The Chief Constable can delegate this function, known as the Gold Commander, to the Deputy Chief Constable or an Assistant Chief Constable. This function should not be delegated to the Head of CID.
In discharging this responsibility, the Gold Commander should contemporaneously record decisions in a policy book. Each decision should be detailed together with the supporting rationale. A critical decision is appointing an appropriately qualified and experienced detective as the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO).
The Head of CID should quality assure the investigation and advise the Chief Constable on matters relating to the investigation. In practice, this means having good communication with the SIO and understanding the investigation’s direction.
The SIO is responsible for the direction and control of the investigation. This includes setting out the lines of enquiry and pursuing force and national policy regarding murder investigations.
The SIO should contemporaneously record decisions in a separate policy book. A Chief Officer should countersign the SIO’s policy book as the Gold Commander to demonstrate effective supervision of the SIO. This requirement also ensures the investigation complies with force and national policy.
Defence lawyers will be looking for procedural errors to undermine the prosecution case against a suspect e.g. failing to comply with the law regarding the treatment of suspects.
The IOPC’s report catalogues missed investigative opportunities. The accountability for this rests with the Gold Commander, Head of CID and SIO.
The report mentions that a Judge decided that Halliwell’s admissions were not obtained in compliance with the law. A second Judge took a different view. This legal wrangling featured in a television drama. I am not going to rehearse the legal arguments, but it is the case that this delayed bringing Halliwell to justice.
The IOPC highlights the appointment of a subsequent SIO considered to be inexperienced. This officer was put in “sole charge without appropriate resourcing, supervision, or governance in place.” The officer concerned should never have been put in this position. The responsibility for this rests with the Gold Commander.
This is symptomatic of failures at a Chief officer level that dogged this murder investigation right from the outset. The IOPC statement concludes with four specific recommendations that appertain to the responsibilities of the Chief Constable and force policy e.g. the Gold Commander should complete a policy book. In my view, once again, basic stuff.
Holding Kier Pritchard solely responsible for what happened back in 2011 is wrong. His intervention in 2014 as Assistant Chief Constable put the investigation back on track. Others have escaped judgment for what happened during the initial investigation prior to 2014.
There is the inevitable vulnerability that reports of this nature are undertaken with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight. We can all be wise after the event, but issues identified by the IOPC must be addressed.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police, Fire and Rescue Service has recently expressed reservations regarding Wiltshire Police’s ability to investigate crime and protect vulnerable victims.
There is currently a national shortage of qualified detectives within CID. The roots of this trace back in part to austerity. Experienced retiring officers, including detectives, were not replaced as forces struggled to manage shrinking budgets.
Detectives today must cope with the pressure of long hours, complex cases and increasing workloads. A once highly sought after role has become less appealing. A consequence is inexperienced officers investigating serious crimes with a reduced quality of service provided to victims.
The IOPC Halliwell report has sparked the usual clamour for resignations. I am not certain how this helps. Many individuals involved in the 2011 investigation of Becky Godden’s murder are retired.
We need the current Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner to take action to reduce the risk of a repeat of this fiasco. It starts with building greater capacity and capability to investigate crime.
Success is dependent on the Government properly funding the police. A Chief Constable has recently gone on record effectively stating populist soundbites from politicians will not help the police protect the public. The incoming Prime Minister needs to give this serious consideration.