IOPC ‘sugar-coated’ probe into police handling of murder case, mother says

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The mother of Becky Godden has accused the police watchdog of “sugar coating” its investigation into Wiltshire Police’s handling of her daughter’s murder case.

On Friday, the Independent Office for Police Complaints (IOPC) criticised the force for missing “significant opportunities” to bring taxi driver Christopher Halliwell to justice sooner.

Halliwell, of Swindon, Wiltshire, murdered 20-year-old Miss Godden in January 2003 and Sian O’Callaghan, 22, in March 2011.

Wiltshire Police have issued a formal apology to Miss Godden’s family after the IOPC found there was a “fog of confusion” over who was in command of the investigation into her disappearance.

However, her mother, Karen Edwards, said the IOPC had been too gentle in its findings against Wiltshire Police, accusing it of wrapping the force “in cotton wool”.

Halliwell confessed to killing Miss O’Callaghan six days after abducting her, to Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, and took police to her body before offering “another one” and admitting to Miss Godden’s murder.

He then led police to where he had buried Miss Godden in January 2003.

However, flaws in the way the investigation was handled between 2011 and 2014 meant he was not prosecuted for Miss Godden’s murder until 2016, having previously been jailed for killing Miss O’Callaghan in 2012.

A judge ruled that the way in which his confession was obtained by Mr Fulcher breached Police and Criminal Evidence Act rules, meaning the charge of murdering Miss Godden was dropped at his first trial.

In a report published on Friday, the IOPC said that between 2011 and 2014 the inquiry into Ms Godden’s death was “poorly progressed and supervised, reasonable lines of inquiry were not pursued, and key evidence was not forensically examined”.

It found there had been ample evidence to prosecute Halliwell in 2011 even without his confession.

The IOPC noted there had been no senior investigating officer in the case between Mr Fulcher stepping down in the midst of disciplinary proceedings in July 2011 and Detective Inspector Matt Davey being given the role in October 2012.

Key items of forensic evidence, such as soil from a spade that matched the rare soil of the field in which Miss Godden’s body was discovered, were not analysed for up to three years after they were first seized.

Becky Godden
Becky Godden was murdered in 2003 (Wiltshire Police/PA)

The IOPC conducted investigations into three police officers and only found one – Chief Constable Kier Pritchard – had a case to answer for his lack of oversight and scrutiny of the progress of the case.

It has been agreed with Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Wilkinson that Mr Pritchard will only receive management action in respect of the failings, the IOPC said.

It also found that a misconduct investigation into Mr Fulcher and his handling of Halliwell’s confession had not drawn resources away from Miss Godden’s murder investigation.

Mrs Edwards, of Nine Elms in Swindon, Wiltshire, told the PA news agency she believed the only reason Halliwell was ever prosecuted for her daughter’s death was because she had become “a thorn in their side”.

She added she did not believe “whatsoever” the IOPC’s conclusion that the investigation into Mr Fulcher had not come at the expense of her daughter’s.

Mrs Edwards said it was clear Wiltshire Police had made the conscious decision to sit on evidence.

Asked how she felt about the IOPC report and the apology from Wiltshire Police, she said: “It has brought me some sort of closure but my honest opinion now is I think the IOPC needs to be looked at.

“They are lovely people who I dealt with but they are just tied up in bureaucracy and they just have no idea what’s really going on.”

Mrs Edwards continued: “I have been privy to the whole (IOPC) system and it’s wrong, I felt all along that they were sugar coating everything and wrapping the police up in cotton wool.”

Christopher Halliwell
Christopher Halliwell murdered Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden (Wiltshire Police/PA)

“Where is the ‘I’? Where is the ‘Independence’ in the IOPC?” she said.

She added: “The IOPC needs reform and it needs to be looked at, and that is my next mission.”

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.”

She said Wiltshire Police was acting on a number of recommendations to improve its performance in future investigations.

Wiltshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills said the force has apologised to Miss 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.

“We fully accept the findings and recommendations of the IOPC-managed investigation, which was undertaken by an external police force.”

Mr Mills added: “We are fully committed to ensuring the lessons identified in this case are learnt and acted upon.”