Detective keeps job after blunders

Romsey Advertiser: Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher will be returning to his job Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher will be returning to his job

One of Britain's top detectives will keep his job despite being found guilty of gross misconduct over his handling of a high-profile double murder case.

Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher faced a police disciplinary hearing accused of three allegations of gross misconduct over alleged breaches of force policy and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

He had been criticised in an independent report into his handling of the murders of Sian O'Callaghan and Rebecca Godden in Swindon.

In a statement, Mr Fulcher said he was looking forward to returning to work with Wiltshire Police.

The formal conduct hearing before an independent panel began on Monday and had been expected to last up to five days.

Last year the force said it had made the decision to proceed with a disciplinary hearing after reviewing a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the running of Operation Mayan.

The police watchdog report found Mr Fulcher breached the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) and ignored orders from his own force during the inquiry into murder suspect Christopher Halliwell.

The IPCC report recommended that Wiltshire Police should consider a charge of gross misconduct against Mr Fulcher.

A joint statement was released by Mr Fulcher's legal team and the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales.

It said: "Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher acknowledges and accepts the findings of the panel and is grateful for the thorough consideration given to the facts of his case.

"Steve Fulcher wishes to express his thanks to those who have supported him throughout this very sad case.

"At all times Steve Fulcher has been motivated by a desire to serve the public and do the best that he can for the victims, their families and for Wiltshire Police.

"He is grateful for the support he has received from many people and, in particular, humbled by the support he has received from Becky's mother, Karen Edwards, and Sian's partner Kevin Reape, when they have suffered such tragic loss.

"Steve Fulcher is a dedicated police officer and is fully committed to the Wiltshire Police.

"He wishes to return to work as soon as possible to continue serving the public and to move forward from this upsetting and stressful episode in his life and that of his family."

Wiltshire Police force is yet to comment.

Mr Fulcher's handling of the investigation saw 49-year-old Halliwell escape a murder charge, despite the father of three leading him to the spot where Miss Godden was buried.

Halliwell was jailed for life in October 2012 after admitting murdering Miss O'Callaghan as she made her way home from a night out in Swindon in March 2011.

The taxi driver, of Ashbury Avenue, Swindon, was arrested days later on suspicion of kidnapping the 22-year-old officer worker and was taken to Mr Fulcher.

Over a three-hour period, Halliwell confessed to murdering Miss O'Callaghan and took the experienced detective to her shallow grave.

He then made the startling admission that he had killed another woman and showed Mr Fulcher where Swindon prostitute Miss Godden was buried.

Under Pace rules, which govern the questioning of suspects, Halliwell should have been cautioned several times during this three-hour period.

Mr Fulcher, who has advised officers across the country on how to conduct murder investigations, admitted that during a nine-minute grilling he asked Halliwell to confess to where Miss O'Callaghan was - dead or alive.

The detective warned Halliwell that if he did not come clean, he would face similar vilification in the press to that suffered by Christopher Jefferies, the innocent landlord of Bristol landscape architect Joanna Yeates, who had been murdered the previous Christmas.

During a court hearing in 2012, Mr Fulcher said that even after Halliwell had offered him "another one" - meaning a second body - and taken him to the field at Eastleach, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, where the remains of Miss Godden were later found, the taxi driver was still not cautioned.

"I didn't consider it, period, I didn't consider it at that period of time," Mr Fulcher told the court.

"I believed that again, the right thing to do was take the information he was prepared to give, but I accept he was not cautioned at that time."

Mr Fulcher also admitted during cross-examination that he had become "frustrated" that Halliwell refused to answer any more questions, having finally spoken to a solicitor.

"I thought it was utterly ridiculous that someone would take me, 12 other people and a surveillance helicopter to the deposition site of two bodies and then seek to find some loophole or quirk in the law to get away from the fact he was a multiple murderer," he said.

Mrs Justice Cox ruled that Halliwell's confessions were inadmissible, as there had been "wholesale and irretrievable breaches of Pace and the codes".

With no other evidence tying Halliwell to the murder of Miss Godden, the prosecution did not oppose an application by his defence team to dismiss the charge.

The conduct panel, chaired by a chief constable from another force and made up of independent members, was tasked with deciding whether or not Mr Fulcher committed three counts of gross misconduct.

Two related to the execution of his duty during the Sian O'Callaghan and Becky Godden case in March 2011 and one was in relation to inappropriate contact with the media some 12 months later.

"The panel have upheld the allegation that Detective Superintendent Fulcher committed gross misconduct by breaching the standards of professional behaviour as outlined by the Police Conduct Regulations 2008," a force spokesman said.

"The panel has decided the most appropriate action is for Detective Superintendent Fulcher to be given a final written warning.

"He will remain within Wiltshire Police."

Chief Constable Pat Geenty said in a statement: "Further to the conclusion of a formal conduct hearing held at Wiltshire Police headquarters this week, I can confirm that the conduct allegations in relation to Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher have been found to be proven.

"The conduct panel, chaired by a chief constable from another force and made up of independent members, were tasked with deciding whether or not Detective Superintendent Fulcher had committed three counts of gross misconduct.

"Two related to the execution of his duty during the Sian O'Callaghan and Becky Godden case in March 2011 and one was in relation to inappropriate contact with the media some 12 months later.

"The panel was established after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that Detective Superintendent Fulcher had a case to answer for gross misconduct, as outlined by the Police Conduct Regulations 2008.

"Over the last three-and-a-half days, the panel has examined all of the evidence presented to them, including hearing from a number of witnesses.

"Prior to reaching their decision, the appropriate authority withdrew one of the alleged breaches relating to information released to the media by Detective Superintendent Fulcher.

"But it was their finding that Detective Superintendent Fulcher's actions amounted to gross misconduct in relation to two further breaches: inappropriate contact with the media and the treatment of Christopher Halliwell, in relation to Pace.

"The two breaches upheld related to the following standards of professional behaviour:

:: Duties and responsibilities;

:: Orders and instructions;

:: Discreditable conduct.

"The panel have ruled that the appropriate sanction is for Detective Superintendent Fulcher to be issued a final written warning.

"Clearly, this case has been very emotive and has attracted a high level of public interest due to the tragic circumstances surrounding it.

"Serious and major crime investigations are a complex aspect of policing and are often fast-paced and highly charged.

"I have great admiration for senior investigating officers across the country who have to make life-and-death decisions.

"As always, it is vital that investigations are rigorously reviewed in order that good practice, lessons learnt and areas for development are identified.

"Furthermore, in line with the very prominent national concern regarding the integrity and transparency of the police service, I reiterate that I expect the highest level of professional conduct from all of my officers and staff.

"I fully respect the findings of the panel today and the process that has taken place, and I abide by the decision they have made.

"Detective Superintendent Fulcher will continue to be given the appropriate welfare support within the organisation.

"I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to the families of both Sian and Rebecca.

"Both families have been through the trauma of not only losing a loved one in horrific circumstances, but have had to endure several hearings, court cases and legal processes.

"This has been a very lengthy and detailed process, but I hope that all parties can now move forward.

"As I am sure you will appreciate, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further at this stage due to any possible future appeal."

Angus Macpherson, the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: "The chief constable has responsibility for the direction and control of police officers and staff.

"My role as commissioner is to ensure that the correct processes are followed by the constabulary.

"In this instance, my office was required to appoint an independent member of the formal conduct panel and, on this occasion, that person came from outside Wiltshire.

"I am satisfied that the correct process and procedures have been followed and, as such, I respect and support the panel's decision.

"As commissioner, my role is to reflect the views of the people of Wiltshire and Swindon.

"At any time, and especially now, it is of great importance that the police service retains the public's trust.

"I know that the public expect police officers to display the highest standards of professional behaviour. Those standards have been clearly set out by the chief constable.

"This case has led to much discussion about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and to calls for the law to be reviewed.

"The legislation was brought in during the 1980s to protect the rights of suspects.

"The MP for South Swindon, Robert Buckland, who is an experienced barrister, was asked by the policing minister to look at the workings of PACE as a result of this case. I support Mr Buckland's conclusion that some changes would be helpful.

"Finally, I would like once again to offer my condolences to the families of Sian and Becky for their sad loss."

Mrs Edwards, the mother of Ms Godden, told Sky News she "couldn't believe" Mr Fulcher had been found guilty of the two counts of gross misconduct.

But Mrs Edwards, who lives in Swindon, Wiltshire, said she was pleased that Mr Fulcher had kept his job at Wiltshire Police.

"I am absolutely elated," Mrs Edwards said. "We were at the hearing for three days.

"The highs and the lows of that were absolutely emotional. We were sat behind him.

"I really felt for him. It is the first time I had seen him for over two years.

"They were ripping him to pieces. He went from hero to zero and he did that in three days.

"An outstanding police officer that only a few months ago he was going to be given a medal by the Queen.

"That's how highly he was thought of in the police force.

"At the end of the day, if Steve hadn't done what he did, we wouldn't have known about Becky.

"She would have still been lying there in that field and possibly Sian could have been there."

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