The police watchdog has criticised Wiltshire Police for missing “significant opportunities” to bring taxi driver Christopher Halliwell to justice sooner for the murder of sex worker Becky Godden.
Halliwell, of Swindon, Wiltshire, murdered the 20-year-old 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 Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found there was a “fog of confusion” over who was in command of the investigation into her disappearance.
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.
Today, @policeconduct have published their inquiry into the Becky Godden Edwards murder investigation & have concluded that several opportunities were missed by us. We fully accept the findings & have apologised to Becky’s parents. Full statement here: https://t.co/YqEozlm8v1 pic.twitter.com/UXtOAoznUD
— Wiltshire Police (@wiltshirepolice) September 2, 2022
He then led police to where he had buried Miss Godden in January 2003.
But flaws in the way the investigation was handled between 2011 and 2014 meant that 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”.
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.
Among the examples of poor practice identified by the IOPC were the fact that a soil sample taken from a spade belonging to Halliwell in 2011 was not forensically examined until three years later.
It was then found to match rare soil in the field where Miss Godden was found.
A pond in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, which was identified as Halliwell’s “trophy store” of women’s clothing and other items, was not investigated until 2014, by which time much of the evidence was severely degraded.
I fully accept the findings & recommendations outlined in today’s IOPC report regarding the Becky Godden Edwards murder investigation. I've had the opportunity to personally apologise to Becky’s family. You can read my full statement here: https://t.co/2aGd4hWQ6n
— Kier Pritchard (@wiltspoliceCC) September 2, 2022
The IOPC also noted that the evidence of a gamekeeper who 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 from the gamekeeper until February 2015.
The IOPC also found evidence from an RAC recovery driver who attended to Halliwell’s vehicle following a breakdown in the early hours of January 3 2003 was not thoroughly investigated until 2014.
It found Wiltshire Police had also not thoroughly examined evidence from a GP in April 2011 that Halliwell had visited the surgery on January 3 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 incident to the police, despite reporting a similar assaults in the past – something the IOPC deemed should have been suspicious to investigators.
The IOPC said that had the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) known of the outstanding lines of inquiry prior to the ruling on the admissibility of his confession, the judge might have reached a different decision.
It added that it might also have allowed Halliwell to be successfully prosecuted on the strength of the evidence against him, even without the jury knowing of his confession.
The victim’s mother Karen Edwards said the failings were “unbelievable”.
Ms Edwards, of Nine Elms in Swindon, Wiltshire, said she was “elated” with the outcome of the report and to have finally received an apology after she spent years of campaigning to keep the case in the spotlight between 2011 and 2016, when Halliwell was eventually convicted for the murder.
She told the PA news agency: “There has been such a failure within Wiltshire Police – it is unbelievable.”
Speaking about the evidence missed, she said: “That evidence they had in 2016 when he was convicted, they had in their hands in 2011 – they chose not to hand it up.
“The fact they sat on that evidence is just wrong. When they said (in 2016) it was in the public interest – it was in the public interest because I was out there campaigning.
“When the chief constable tells the DI to ‘babysit’ a category A murder investigation, what they mean by that is ‘sit on it, she will go away eventually’.”
She added: “It’s just been unbelievable – I really should not have had to do that. The public should not have to do the job of the police.”
The IOPC found there was a misconduct case to answer against Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, formerly head of protective services for Wiltshire Police in the rank of detective chief superintendent.
It found that, having responsibility for oversight and scrutiny of the investigation, he did not ensure a significantly thorough investigation was carried out, and that he appointed an officer with too little experience to lead the inquiry.
It has been agreed with Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Wilkinson that Mr Pritchard will receive management action in respect of the failings, the IOPC said.
The IOPC said it had found no case to answer in respect of two other officers, then-deputy chief constable Mike Veale and Detective Inspector Matt Davey, who was the senior investigating officer between 2011 and 2014.
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.
“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.”
She added: “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 inquiry that were potentially capable of securing Halliwell’s conviction being overlooked.”
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.
“Although we have implemented improved investigative processes and leadership training for all officers who have the responsibility for the oversight of homicide investigations, we are fully committed to ensuring the lessons identified in this case are learnt and acted upon.
“This is to ensure that victims and families can be confident that they will receive the policing service they rightly should expect in all future homicide investigations.”