22/06/2004

Police failures so serious 'other Huntleys' may be out there: Bichard

Humberside and Cambridgeshire police failings were so serious that there could potentially be others like Ian Huntley who may have slipped through the net and are now working with children and vulnerable adults, according to the man who led a report into the police's handling of events preceding the Soham murders.

The findings of Sir Michael Bichard's final report were presented today, almost six months to the day after the conviction of Ian Huntley for the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.

Humberside police were guilty of "deeply shocking" failures and Cambridgeshire police of "serious" failures in relation to their child protection procedures, the Bichard inquiry found.

Addressing media in central London, Sir Michael Bichard said: "Having said that I have discovered errors, omissions, failures and shortcomings which are deeply shocking and which meant that, for example, there was not one single occasion in all of the contacts with Huntley - including sexual offences allegations notified to Humberside Police - when the record systems worked properly. That means that I cannot be confident that it was Huntley alone who 'slipped through the net'."

Sir Michael added there were "very serious failings" in the senior management of Humberside Police.

The current Chief Constable Mr Westwood must, he said, take personal as well as corporate responsibility for not identifying and dealing with these earlier, once he became Chief Constable in 1999.

Humberside Police exhibited: a lack of effective guidance and training; widespread ignorance of how records were created; and confusion about what was meant by weeding, reviewing and deletion, Sir Michael said.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary's mistakes included entering Huntley's date of birth incorrectly when the vetting check was made, and only checking the PNC against Huntley's alias of 'Ian Nixon'.

Cambridgeshire police made "serious errors" caused by problems in Cambridgeshire's local Criminal Records Bureau which resulted from "work pressures, poorly defined processes and inadequate training and guidance", Sir Michael said.

"But the failings in Cambridgeshire were not systemic nor corporate and the specific errors, as it happens, had only limited consequences," he added.

"The Chief Constable, Mr Lloyd has accepted that ultimately the responsibility for the errors in Cambridgeshire rested with him as the Chief Constable."

Today's report has made "urgent and long-term" recommendations for the systems designed to protect children and vulnerable adults.

Sir Michael's chief recommendations include: a registration scheme for those wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults, which employers could access; the urgent introduction of a national IT system for England and Wales to support police intelligence; and investment in the Police National Computer (PNC) to secure its medium and long-term future.

Other recommendations include a national Code of Practice issued to all police forces on record creation, review, retention, deletion and sharing, and training for head teachers and school governors to ensure interview panels reflect the importance of safeguarding children.

The Inquiry began hearings on 26 February 2004, since then it has heard evidence from sixty-four witnesses, held sixteen hearing days and received over 2,000 pages of evidence.

Sir Michael confirmed that he will reconvene his Inquiry in six months' time to review progress on recommendations.

(gmcg)

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