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Wiltshire 'missed opportunities' in murder of Becky Godden-Edwards

The 2011-14 inquiry into the murder of Becky Godden-Edwards has been found to have been “poorly progressed and supervised”.

In 2011, 22 year old Sian O’Callaghan went missing on a night out in Swindon. Wiltshire later arrested cab-driver Christopher Halliwell who directed police to the location he hid Miss O’Callaghan’s body.

He then asked former Wiltshire Dectective Superintendent Stephen Fulcher “Do you want another one?” directing him to a site in Eastleach, Gloucestershire – where nine years earlier he had buried missing sex worker Becky Godden-Edwards.

In 2012, Halliwell was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years for the murder of Miss O’Callaghan. However, because the detective superintendent did not caution Halliwell – a judge ruled that the way the confession relating to Becky's murder was obtained breached PACE rules, making it inadmissible as evidence.

It is not until 2016, when the high court overturned this decision, that he was convicted for Miss Godden-Edwards’ murder – and given a whole life order.

Mr Fulcher was later found guilty of gross misconduct on two counts (the execution of his duty and inappropriate contact with the media). Mr Fulcher received two final written warnings and a few months later resigned.  

Today, the IOPC has said Wiltshire missed “significant opportunities” to bring Halliwell to justice sooner for Becky’s murder.

The investigation was carried out by Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire Police Professional Standards Department under the IOPC’s direction – it examined a series of complaints from Becky’s mother, Mrs Karen Edwards.

Wiltshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills said the force had apologised to Ms Godden’s parents for the failings.

“We are sincerely and deeply sorry for the impact these avoidable delays in the investigation had on Becky’s family and recognise these have further compounded the terrible pain and loss endured as result of the murder of their much-loved daughter,” he said.

Mr Mills continued: “We fully accept the findings and recommendations of the IOPC managed investigation, which was undertaken by an external police force.

Examples of where Wiltshire failed to progress reasonable lines of enquiry include a soil sample taken from a spade belonging to Halliwell which was seized when he was arrested in 2011. It was not forensically examined until three years later – when it was found to match rare soil in the field where Becky was found.

There was a pond in Ramsbury – later identified as Halliwell’s ‘trophy store’ – where women’s clothing and other exhibits were found. It also was not investigated until 2014 by which time the items had degraded and there was no forensic potential.

The IOPC also noted that the evidence of a gamekeeper that notified Wiltshire Police’s incident room in 2011 about seeing a taxi around Ramsbury at around the time Ms O’Callaghan was abducted was not explored - no witness statement was taken until February 2015.

The IOPC has today said that these examples plus others may have led to a different judicial decision in 2012, or at least given grounds for appeal, had they been available for the CPS.

The investigation had additionally found a case to answer for misconduct for current Chief Constable Kier Pritchard – who was then Head of Protective Services for Wiltshire (DCS).

This was with regards to not ensuring a sufficiently thorough inquiry along with the appointment of an insufficiently experienced officer (DI Matt Davey) to lead the inquiry in 2012. It has been agreed CC Pritchard would receive management action.

No case to answer was found against the then DCC Mike Veale and the SIO DI Matt Davey.

IOPC regional director Catrin Evans said: “Our investigation found serious failings in the way the force handled the murder investigation, after the initial charges relating to Becky’s murder were dropped in February 2012. In our view, the issues that arose stemmed from a combination of systemic weaknesses within the force at the time as well as individual shortcomings. Our investigation indicated that no one in Wiltshire Police took responsibility for ensuring that the murder inquiry progressed effectively.

“The force at the time allowed a fog of confusion to develop regarding who was in command. This led to the murder investigation stalling, a lack of appropriate reviews, and obvious lines of enquiry that were potentially capable of securing Halliwell’s conviction being overlooked.”

10 recommendations were made to Wiltshire including that they ensure Gold Groups have clear objectives or terms of reference covering the oversight of investigations and that they remind relevant investigation teams that independent reviews of murder investigations should be undertaken in line with national guidance.

CC Kier Pritchard said: “As Chief Constable of the Force, I fully accept the findings and recommendations outlined in today’s report and I have had the opportunity to personally apologise to members of Becky’s family.    

“Whilst I was not the Senior Investigating Officer who held the day-to-day responsibility for the murder investigation, as DCS my role included the overall responsibility for all serious and major crime investigations across the Force.

“In this position, I received progress briefings from the SIO, often in the company of his line manager, both of whom were Wiltshire officers forming part of the Brunel Major Crime collaboration with Avon and Somerset Constabulary. I also formed part of a gold group chaired by a Chief Officer. In light of this role, I featured directly in the complaint.  

“Whilst there was no misconduct meeting or hearing held, I voluntarily accepted management action which encourages reflection and learning by the recipient.  

““It is of personal regret to me that there were missed opportunities identified during the investigation and I take full responsibility for any individual shortcomings.”

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