Police cannot be judge, jury and executioner

Mick Gradwell
Mick Gradwell
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Should the police be able to bend the rules when trying to save someone’s life?

Wiltshire Police senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher threw the police rulebook out of the window during the investigation into the disappearance of 22-year old Sian O’Callaghan last year.

The officer was convinced that the person who knew her whereabouts was taxi driver Christopher Halliwell. He also knew that if Halliwell were to be arrested, taken to a police station, cautioned and given access to a solicitor, any chance of finding her alive would be lost.

So he personally took Halliwell on a three-hour tour of the Wiltshire countryside and by oppressive conduct coerced several key admissions. Halliwell not only ended up pointing out the place he had buried Sian after he had murdered her, he also took police to where he had disposed of Becky Godden-Edwards, who he had murdered several years before.

Although Halliwell is now serving a life sentence for the murder of Sian, Mr Fulcher is under investigation and suspended from duty. Also, any evidence gained during the countryside jaunt was deemed inadmissible at the trial, which has led to the family of Becky Godden-Edwards being denied their day in court.

A layperson may think it unbelievable that a murderer can take the police to the place he has buried two victims and for this not to be allowed as evidence in court. The only way of explaining it is to say that that is the law. If police officers do not adhere to the Police and Criminal Evidence act (PACE) then any evidence obtained can become worthless. PACE is there to protect the rights of suspects, to ensure they are not treated oppressively and it is there to prevent the miscarriages of justice that have occurred in the past.

There are no exceptions, so for example if a suspect knows the location of a bomb that is due to go off or has other information that could save a life, the police are not allowed to use more…. ‘persuasive’ tactics to get them to speak.

Whilst I have every sympathy for Mr Fulcher, who no doubt had the interests of Sian and her family at heart, it is not for police officers to act as judge, jury and executioner. Regrettably, the circumstances in which Sian O’Callaghan went missing are far from unique and other officers will be faced with a similar quandary. It is for Parliament to legislate on the extent of police powers and not for individual officers to make it up as they go along. Having said that I do hope that Mr Fulcher is treated leniently, as he openly admitted what he had done and his victim-focused motive was very clear.

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