An independent investigation into a senior detective has found that he has a case to answer for gross misconduct.
A senior detective who flouted police rules to persuade a murderer to lead him to the bodies of two women who he killed and buried should face a charge of gross misconduct, the police watchdog ruled on Monday.
The decision by Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher to personally question the main suspect on an isolated hillside resulted in two confessions, two recovered bodies – but the failure of the murder case for one of his victims.
The detective took the drastic action in the hope of finding missing office worker Sian O’Callaghan, 22, who had gone missing four days earlier after leaving a Swindon nightclub.
After the solitary tete-a-tete, taxi driver Christopher Halliwell, 49, confessed to the murder of Ms O’Callaghan in March 2011 and took the detective to where he had buried the body.
But during a remarkable three-hour drive, he also directed the detective to the spot where he had hidden another woman, Becky Godden-Edwards.
The detective’s decision to break the rules designed to ensure that defendants get fair trials meant that Halliwell escaped a murder charge for the killing of Ms Godden-Edwards. Halliwell’s confession to the murder of Ms Callaghan was also ruled inadmissible but he pleaded guilty in October last year and was jailed for life.
The detective’s behaviour was supported by Ms Godden-Edwards’ mother, who is campaigning for a change in the law, while her father complained to the watchdog after the murder case collapsed.
“The effect of Det Supt Fulcher’s actions was catastrophic, particularly on the prosecution of Mr Halliwell for the murder of Rebecca,” the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said in its report yesterday.
“Det Supt Fulcher stated had he not proceeded as he did, Rebecca’s remains may never have been found. However, it is not possible to determine what may or may not have happened if Mr Halliwell had been immediately conveyed to custody after his arrest and urgent interview by detectives.”
Under the rules of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Halliwell should have been cautioned several times as he was driven around to find the bodies. Mrs Justice Cox ruled that the detective had obtained an unfair confession after putting pressure on Halliwell when warning that he would face vilification from the press if he did not cooperate. Halliwell was quizzed in the absence of a solicitor.
The Wiltshire force said it was “carefully considering” recommendations made over Mr Fulcher’s handling of the case. It emerged earlier this year that he had returned to work following a period of suspension.