Soham investigation suffered 'lack of grip' in early stages

The Soham murder inquiry found a 'lack of grip' at the start of the investigation into the disappearance of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, but the shortcomings did not undermine the final outcome of the case, according to a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

In the report, published today by Her Majesty's Inspector Sir Ronnie Flanagan, he said that whilst the initial response by uniform officers was to a high standard, "momentum was lost" over the following 48 hours and that during the early stages of the enquiry into the disappearance of the two girls, there was a "lack of focus and of co-ordination".

He went on to commend the overall determination and commitment of officers, police staff and special constables, which led to the arrest of Maxine Carr and Ian Huntley 13 days into one of the largest murder investigations recently mounted by an English police force.

Sir Ronnie concluded that while the lack of purpose and co-ordination at a strategic command level led to an initial response that fell well below the expectations of the victims' families, there was "no evidence of inherent weakness" on the part of Cambridgeshire police in investigating major incidents of this kind.

Sir Ronnie said: "I am firmly of the opinion that while errors were made in connection with events surrounding the Soham investigation, there was also a considerable amount of excellent policing delivered by the officers, police staff and special constables of Cambridgeshire. Much of this represents good policing practice, which should be disseminated nationally.

He added: "A critical incident of this nature would present a challenge to any police force and it is in this knowledge that chief officers are expected to develop the capability of their force to put systems and staff in place capable of meeting such challenges. It is regrettable that in Cambridgeshire some of these challenges became more substantial than they might have been had the initial response been immediately sustained and better co-ordinated at a strategic command level."

The report made the following recommendations, which will be implemented in close liaison with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the National Centre for Policing Excellence (NCPE) and subject to on-going monitoring by HMIC.

The report was commissioned by the Home Secretary David Blunkett on 17 December 2003, following the successful conviction of Huntley and Carr.

The Home Office Police Standards Unit and HMIC have been providing support to a number of forces to help raise performance, which includes Cambridgeshire Constabulary. In the latter, recent figures indicate that all crime is down eight per cent, burglary has fallen 23%, vehicle crime has fallen 25% and robbery is down 15%.


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