Police chief indicates he will admit force was wrong to delete Huntley allegations

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The head of the police force blamed for allowing Ian Huntley to get a job as a school caretaker in Soham indicated yesterday that he was prepared to admit that his officers had made mistakes.

The disclosure came on the opening day of the independent inquiry into how Huntley was able to obtain work with children despite having been accused of nine sex crimes, including four rapes, and the indecent assault of an 11-year-old girl.

The Bichard inquiry, headed by Sir Michael Bichard, a former civil servant, will focus on how Humberside and Cambridgeshire Police forces recorded and passed on information about Huntley. It is expected to report in six months.

The chief constable of Humberside Police, David Westwood, has until now argued that his force was only following data protection rules when it deleted intelligence about the unproven allegations against Huntley. His position, which was severely criticised, has been contradicted by data protection experts and most of the country's most senior police chiefs.

A statement from Mr Westwood's legal representative yesterday appeared to suggest that Humberside was finally preparing to concede that it had been at fault.

Huntley, who is currently serving two life sentences for the murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, was given the all-clear by Humberside after Soham Village College asked the police to vet his criminal record in 2001. Despite the string of allegations against him from when he was living in Grimsby, the police did not retain any records. Senior Humberside officers said they had adopted a policy of "weeding" out or deleting Huntley's records because they thought they were required to do so by the Data Protection Act, a misunderstanding described by one MP as "catastrophic".

In a statement to the inquiry in central London yesterday, Jeremy Gompertz QC, for Mr Westwood, said: "He wishes me to state at the outset that he and the Humberside Police force will co-operate fully.Witnesses and documents will be made available to the inquiry as requested.

"The Chief Constable will pursue a policy of openness. All relevant material will be disclosed. Mistakes will be acknowledged." Humberside County Council has also admitted that it had no central record of the allegations against Huntley.

Sir Richard said that he was reassured to hear from Humberside "that if they had made mistakes they would admit it".

He said that he expected to call Mr Westwood and Tom Lloyd, the chief constable of Cambridgeshire Police, to give evidence next month.

One of the central questions of the inquiry, which was set up by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is whether the misunderstanding of the Data Protection Act is currently resulting in police forces and social service departments from deleting and excluding intelligence about potentially dangerous people.