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Police face scrutiny after man found guilty of 2005 Emma Caldwell murder

<span>Emma Caldwell was 27 when she disappeared in April 2005. Her body was found five weeks later in woods near Biggar, South Lanarkshire.</span><span>Photograph: Strathclyde police/PA</span>
Emma Caldwell was 27 when she disappeared in April 2005. Her body was found five weeks later in woods near Biggar, South Lanarkshire.Photograph: Strathclyde police/PA

A man has been found guilty of the 2005 murder of Emma Caldwell after a trial that raised significant questions about the police investigation of the killing and the key suspect over almost 20 years, as well as attitudes to reports of violence against sex workers.

Iain Packer, 51, was sentenced to at least 36 years in prison for Caldwell’s murder and was found guilty of 32 other charges against a total of 22 women that amounted to a horrifying course of unchecked physical and sexual violence over two decades. The offences included 11 rapes and multiple sexual assaults.

Sentencing Packer to the second-longest term in Scottish legal history, the judge, Lord Beckett, said the killer was responsible for an “extreme campaign of sexual violence”, preying on the vulnerable and causing “extreme and enduring suffering for so many women and their families”.

Immediately after the verdicts, the Police Scotland assistant chief constable Bex Smith, who is the executive lead for major crime and public protection, apologised directly to Caldwell, her family and “many other victims”, saying they were all “let down by policing in 2005”.

Caldwell was living in a hostel in Glasgow when she disappeared in April 2005, aged 27. Her naked body was found five weeks later in Limefield Woods near Biggar, South Lanarkshire.

Her mother told the trial that Caldwell had started taking heroin to numb her grief over the death of her older sister. She had been making money through sex work at the time of her death. The court heard from a friend of Caldwell’s that Packer had become “obsessed” with her, following her and attempting to scare away her other clients.

Although a rape allegation was first made against Packer in 1990, the prosecutor advocate depute, Richard Goddard KC, told the jury that at that time police were “dismissive” of reports made by sex workers. He said it was a “tragedy” that sex workers felt forced to accept sexual assault as “part and parcel of their job”.

Another witness said Packer chose girls who were “young, vulnerable and on drugs”. Many of the women who gave witness statements were sex workers at the time and some have since died.

Packer – who denied all charges apart from one of a prior indecent assault against Caldwell, for which he admitted he was “ashamed” – gave evidence at the trial over three days, insisting he had not killed Caldwell and that the other women accusing him were either mistaken or liars.

He admitted taking sex workers to the woods where Caldwell’s body was found – but not to the same spot where she was found. Asked where he was on the night Caldwell disappeared, Packer told the court he could have been at work or walking his dogs.

The court had heard earlier from an expert that soil found in his van was a 97% match for earth at the spot where Caldwell was dumped.

Information about the police investigation that came to light during the trial raised significant questions about why it took so long to bring Packer to justice. He gave six statements to police between 2005 and 2007, but was not interviewed under caution as a suspect.

A decade later, concerns about the unsolved case were such that in 2015 the lord advocate ordered Police Scotland to re-investigate not only who killed Caldwell, but flaws in the original inquiry.

The original police investigation was focused on four Turkish men, who were charged with Caldwell’s murder in August 2007, but that case collapsed and the men were released.

Smith made it plain that Strathclyde police, the force that first investigated Caldwell’s murder before Scottish forces were merged into one force in 2013, had failed Packer’s victims.

“A significant number of women and girls who showed remarkable courage to speak up at that time also did not get the justice and support they needed and deserved from Strathclyde police,” she said.

“It is clear that further investigations should have been carried out into Emma’s murder following the initial inquiry in 2005. The lack of investigation until 2015 caused unnecessary distress to her family and all those women who had come forward to report sexual violence.”

Caldwell’s mother, Margaret, who has campaigned tenaciously for justice for her daughter, said she felt “betrayed” by the original police investigation and angry that it had taken so long for Packer to be brought to justice.

Her solicitor, Aamer Anwar, called for an inquiry into police failings, saying: “A toxic culture of misogyny and corruption meant the police failed so many women and girls who came forward to speak up against Packer.

“Instead of receiving justice and compassion, they were humiliated, dismissed and in some instances arrested, whilst the police gifted freedom to an evil predator to rape and rape again.”