Soham: inquiry lambasts police

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The Independent Online

A "systematic and corporate" failure by Humberside Police was at the heart of the fiasco of the botched vetting of Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, an inquiry will conclude today.

Despite the hard-hitting criticism of Humberside and what is described as the "very serious failings" of the force's "senior management", the Chief Constable, David Westwood, is understood to be defying calls for his resignation.

Today's report follows an inquiry into how Huntley was able to obtain a job at a school in Soham, Cambridgeshire - where he met Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - despite having a history of sexual offending against underage girls.

The inquiry, chaired by Sir Michael Bichard, will recommend the establishment of a national intelligence database and tougher positive vetting or a "passport system" for people applying for jobs working with young people. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is expected to agree to those proposals.

Cambridgeshire Police, the other force involved in the vetting of Huntley, will be criticised for a series of failures, although Sir Michael is understood to be far more critical of Humberside.

The 200-page Bichard inquiry report concludes: "In the words of the Chief Constable of Humberside, failures were systematic and corporate", The Independent understands. It adds there were "serious failings in the senior management at Humberside Police". It is also scathing about the piecemeal national vetting system.

It was only after Huntley's trial that it was revealed he had been at the centre of nine sex allegations while living in Grimsby in the Nineties. Serious flaws in Humberside's intelligence handling meant that no records of Huntley's past were retained - including a report that warned he was a "serial sex attacker".

Huntley was jailed for life in December for the murders of the 10-year-olds Holly and Jessica in August 2002.

Humberside Police will be heavily censured for deleting records of Huntley's past. The force's chief, Mr Westwood, will also be criticised for ignoring two sets of advice and wrongly blaming the Data Protection Act for having to "weed out" old intelligence files. The assistant Information Commissioner, David Smith, and a senior figure from within the Association of Chief Police Officers had advised him not to use that defence.

Mr Westwood finally admitted the error at the inquiry when he said: "I do not intend to try to justify why I made a mistake. It was my mistake and I made it." But, despite the criticisms, Mr Westwood has already indicated he will not be offering his resignation and believes he should remain as Chief Constable to see through reforms to the vetting system.

Tom Lloyd, Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, will also come under fire for his force's failure in almost every stage of the vetting process. Mr Lloyd has admitted that his force failed to ask for a vetting check on Huntley when he applied to work as the caretaker at Soham Village College. But the Bichard report will say Cambridgeshire's "failings are not as great as Humberside".

Cambridgeshire will face further criticism today in a separate review by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, for HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, of the force's conduct of the early stages of the Soham investigation.

It emerged after Huntley was convicted for the double murder that the police operation was dogged with problems. False leads wasted police time; there were delays in checking Huntley's alibi; and Mr Lloyd was criticised for being on holiday during the early stages of the investigation.

Mr Lloyd is understood to be standing firm and is not expected to be ordered to resign by the Home Secretary. He is expected to accept responsibility for his force's failings but argue that significant improvements have been made.

The Bichard report will also criticise other organisations - including social services - which had close contact with Huntley but failed to spot any danger signs. North East Lincolnshire social services failed to link the underage sex allegations, despite them centring on Huntley.

The report's key recommendations include establishing a national intelligence database that all 43 forces in England and Wales can access. It would be similar to one that is about to come online in Scotland, which includes intelligence material about suspects, rather than just details of convictions.

The report calls for the setting up of a child safety"passport" scheme. Applicants applying for jobs working with young people would be "positively vetted" for suitability rather than simple checks on their past.

It also says headteachers should be given training in interview techniques. That recommendation follows the admission by the headteacher of the Soham school, Howard Gilbert, that he never checked Huntley's references.