The family of a woman murdered by Christopher Halliwell have received a ‘full apology’ from police after a damning report ruled “significant opportunities” to bring him to justice sooner were missed.
Mother Karen Edwards has claimed mistakes in Wiltshire Police’s handling of her daughter Becky Godden-Edwards’ case left some forensic evidence unaccounted for.
Evil killer Halliwell strangled Becky In January 2003 and buried her body in a field. But her murder only came to light in 2011 when Halliwell was arrested over the disappearance of personal assistant Sian O’Callaghan, 22.
Taxi driver Halliwell was found guilty of Becky’s murder in 2016 and the force released Becky’s remains in 2017. But Karen said pieces of her body were missing – and believed her killer kept her skull, hands and feet as ‘trophies’.
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) managed investigation has now found that Wiltshire Police missed significant opportunities to bring Halliwell to justice sooner.
The investigation found that between 2011-14 the murder inquiry was “poorly progressed and supervised, reasonable lines of enquiry were not pursued, and key evidence was not forensically examined.”
The IOPC has made recommendations to Wiltshire Police which are focussed on ensuring better strategic oversight and review of murder investigations and improved use of the major inquiry system HOLMES, in line with national guidelines. Those recommendations have already been acted on by the force.
The investigation, carried out by the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire Police Professional Standards Department under the IOPC’s direction and control, examined a series of complaints from Becky’s mother, Mrs Karen Edwards.
The probe looked at a series of complaints from Mrs Edwards.
Examples of Wiltshire Police’s failure to progress reasonable lines of enquiry prior to 2014 included:
Failures included not examining a soil sample from a spade belonging to Halliwell seized during his arrest in 2011. This was not forensically examined until three years later when it was matched to rare soil in the field where Becky was found.
A pond in Ramsbury, Wilts., which was later identified as Halliwell’s ‘trophy store’, from which women’s clothing and other exhibits were retrieved, was not investigated until 2014 – three years after it was reported to the police.
As a result, the items had degraded and forensic potential was lost.
Other potential vital evidence including from RAC driver who attended the killer’s broken down vehicle six miles from where Becky had been buried around the time of her death were not properly followed up.
There was also evidence from a GP in April 2011 that Halliwell had visited their surgery on 3 January 2003 with severe scratches to his face and damage to his hand, claiming he had been assaulted by a passenger in his taxi.
There was also evidence of a custody medical officer who stated on 24 March 2011 that Halliwell told him he had been arrested for killing two people.
The IOPC said that “had the above witness and forensic evidence been available or the Crown Prosecution Service been made aware of outstanding lines of enquiry prior to the pre-trial hearing in early 2012, at which Halliwell’s confession was ruled inadmissible, it may have led to either a different judicial decision, an appeal against the inadmissibility ruling, or a potential prosecution for Becky’s murder at that time.”
Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, who was aHead of Protective Services, as a Detective Chief Superintendent when he was involved in the case, released a statement in which he ‘fully accepted’ the report’s findings.
He said: “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.
“Further to a five year investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), in three of the complaints made against me, it was agreed between the IOPC and the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Wiltshire, that I should receive management action.
“Whilst there was no misconduct meeting or hearing held, I voluntarily accepted management action which encourages reflection and learning by the recipient.
“This has certainly been an opportunity for deep personal reflection for me. I acknowledge that there was confusion at the time concerning the oversight of the investigation into Becky’s murder, as highlighted within the IOPC investigation.
“This arose, in part, due to the major crime collaboration being in its infancy. For that, I am really sorry.
“The murder investigation was a complex case with very unique circumstances. We always strove to deliver justice for Becky’s family, further to the tragic and shocking loss of their much loved daughter.
“In 2014, when I was an Assistant Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, I was formally appointed as the Gold Commander concerning the ongoing investigation into the murder of Becky.
“In this role I ensured there was clear focus and leadership across the major investigation at all levels.
“Having identified shortcomings in the investigation to that point, I self-referred the case to the IOPC, declared our response as a force critical incident and established a new gold group.
“I appointed a new SIO and a PIP4 investigator (a specially trained officer who provides independent advice, support and review for high profile, complex and major crime investigations).
“I also commissioned an independent major crime review conducted by East Midlands Special Operations Unit. Our collective approach, alongside the CPS, led to the successful conviction of Halliwell for the murder of Becky in 2016.
“But all that said, I fully appreciate the grief and despair that the delay in the investigation has had on Becky’s family as they have rightly sought to have justice delivered. Whilst justice was achieved, it is with deep regret that justice was delayed for Becky’s family.
“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.
“As Chief Constable of the Force, I fully accept the findings and recommendations outlined in today’s published findings from the IOPC.
“I am very sorry for the impact that failures in this case have had on Becky’s family.”
The IOPC decided that Chief Constable Kier Pritchard should answer a case of misconduct, and it was agreed with the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner that he would receive management action.
IOPC regional director Catrin Evans said: “Our sympathies go out to the family of Becky Godden-Edwards for their awful loss.
“Mrs Edwards has waited patiently for the outcome of the lengthy and complex investigation into her complaint that Halliwell should have brought to justice sooner for her daughter’s murder.
“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.
“We have been liaising with Wiltshire Police, who have co-operated fully throughout the investigation.
“They have already acted on a series of recommendations to try to ensure that mistakes the force made over the accountability for, and direction of, this murder investigation are not repeated.
“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.
“It was only after DCI Memory took over the murder inquiry, with oversight from 2014 by then-Assistant Chief Constable Pritchard, that earlier missed evidential opportunities were acted on, culminating in Halliwell finally being brought to justice.”
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