IOPC managed investigation finds missed opportunities in Becky Godden-Edwards murder inquiry
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) managed investigation has found that Wiltshire Police missed significant opportunities to bring Christopher Halliwell to justice sooner for the murder of Becky Godden-Edwards.
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.
Halliwell confessed to Becky’s murder in March 2011, when he was arrested over the death of Sian O’Callaghan. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for Ms O’Callaghan’s murder in 2012, but the judge had earlier ruled the confession evidence concerning Becky’s murder was inadmissible due to the manner in which it was obtained. As a consequence, Halliwell was not brought to trial for Becky’s murder until September 2016, when a different judge ruled the confession evidence concerning Becky’s murder was admissible.
Examples of Wiltshire Police’s failure to progress reasonable lines of enquiry prior to 2014 included:
- a soil sample from a spade belonging to Halliwell, seized when he was arrested in 2011, was not forensically examined until three years later – it was then matched to rare soil in the field where Becky was found
- a pond in Ramsbury later identified as Halliwell’s ‘trophy store’, from which women’s clothing and other exhibits were retrieved, was not investigated until 2014, by which time items had degraded and lost any forensic potential; a gamekeeper at Ramsbury told the incident room in 2011 about seeing a taxi at the location at or around the time when Sian O’Callaghan was abducted, but this evidence wasn’t explored, and no witness statement was obtained until February 2015
- evidence from an RAC recovery driver who attended to Halliwell’s broken down vehicle in the early hours of 3 January 2003, six miles from where Becky had been buried – a limited RAC record of the call out was known to police in 2011, but detailed evidence was only established after more stringent enquiries three years later
- 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 – Halliwell had not reported this alleged assault to police, but he had reported a similar incident previously, which indicated this was potentially suspicious
- the evidence of a medical officer at Gablecross custody suite, who stated on 24 March 2011 that Halliwell told him he had been arrested for killing two people - this formed part of the evidence used to convict him in 2016
- 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.
We examined allegations against three Wiltshire Police officers. At the end of the investigation, it was decided there was a case to answer for misconduct for Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, who was then-Head of Protective Services for Wiltshire Police, in the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS). The case to answer decision was in respect of allegations that, in his oversight and scrutiny role, he did not ensure a sufficiently thorough murder inquiry or ensure that necessary case reviews were conducted, and that he appointed a lower ranking and insufficiently experienced senior investigating officer to lead the inquiry in 2012. It was agreed with the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner that he would receive management action.
No case to answer was found against the then-Deputy Chief Constable, Mike Veale, and the senior investigating officer between 2011-14, Detective Inspector Matt Davey. Neither is still a serving police officer. The investigation determined that Mr Veale was not responsible for oversight of the murder inquiry and had a separate role heading up the force’s Gold Group concerning then-Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher’s disciplinary proceedings. Mr Davey was an inexperienced senior investigating officer, accredited in June 2011, and Becky’s was his first murder inquiry. The evidence indicates that he was placed in sole charge without appropriate resourcing, supervision, or governance in place.
The IOPC managed investigation gathered and examined a significant volume of documents including policy books, HOLMES databases, Gold Group minutes, force media releases, case files submitted to the CPS, forensic and crime scene manager strategies, case reviews, court transcripts and evidence presented at a pre-trial hearing in early 2012. Investigators spoke to key individuals involved as witnesses, as well gaining accounts from the three subject officers. The investigation team met with Mrs Edwards during the investigation to update her on progress. The investigation considered relevant legislation and national police guidance on the use of HOLMES and carrying out murder investigations, as well as CPS guidance on the prosecution of homicide cases.
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.”
Among the ten recommendations made by the IOPC managed investigation are:
- that Wiltshire Police ensures relevant force policy and/or guidance sets out the responsibility for Chairs of Gold Groups to maintain a policy log and to submit that policy log for inclusion on HOLMES.
- that Wiltshire Police ensures that all Gold Groups have clear objectives or terms of reference covering the oversight of investigations, roles and responsibilities, and wider organisational objectives.
- that Wiltshire Police reminds relevant investigation teams that independent reviews of murder investigations should be undertaken in line with national guidance and that any deviation from this is logged as a policy decision.
- that Wiltshire Police ensures relevant force policy and training is clear about when a Gold Group should be set up for an investigation, including for all Category A murders, and when a Gold Group can be stood down.