18/12/2003

Police vetting probe launched following Huntley conviction

Following Ian Huntley's conviction for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman yesterday, an independent inquiry is to be launched into way in which police forces process background checks and handle information on allegations of serious crimes.

Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that the inquiry will examine the "effectiveness of intelligence and vetting practices" carried out by Cambridgeshire and Humberside Police forces into previous allegations made against Huntley.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said: "I am determined that we should uncover the full facts through this independent inquiry. The inquiry will be conducted speedily to minimise the distress to the two families and ensure that any lessons which need to be learned can be done so quickly."

The Home Secretary has also asked Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to consider the findings of a review into how Cambridgeshire carried out the early part of the criminal investigation, and work with the force to implement its recommendations.

The move comes after it emerged that background checks, initiated by Soham Village College when Huntley applied for the caretaker post, had failed to unearth records linking Huntley with alleged sex attacks in the North East.

Ian Huntley, who also used the alias Nixon (his mother's maiden name), had contact with Humberside constabulary on 10 occasions between 1995 and 1999.

He was investigated for: three allegations of unlawful sexual intercourse, one of which involved a 13-year-old girl; three allegations of rape, one of which involved a 17-year-old girl; and one allegation of indecent assault on a 12-year-old girl.

Ian Huntley's only appearance in court prior to the murders, was when he appeared before Grimsby Crown Court in January 1998 charged with burglary committed in November 1995 and the non-payment of a TV licence fee.

Humberside has admitted that it made a "simple human error" in not taking note of his alias, Ian Nixon, despite his informing police of this during questioning into the alleged rape of a 17-year-old.

Humberside police have been criticised in the media over their "weeding" system, which provided that computer files, relating to allegations not resulting in criminal proceedings, were deleted on a monthly basis. In effect, this meant that every time that Huntley was interviewed over an allegation, it was treated in isolation.

Humberside has said that it has identified two weaknesses in the records system.

The first was that vetting checks were only made on the main Criminal Intelligence Database (CIS). Now, all relevant databases are checked and new technology linking all our systems is on the way, the force said.

The second weakness is was over the Data Protection Act 1984, which states that information cannot be retained solely for the purpose of employment vetting.

To do so would be a breach of the Act. It can only be retained for a policing purpose, the constabulary has said.

However, whether the records held by Humberside police constituted a policing purpose and should have been retained will be a matter for the inquiry.

(gmcg)

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