Peter Stelfox, a former senior investigating officer from Greater Manchester Police, has started a debate about how to cut the cost of major investigations.
He even raises the possibility of whether some long-running undetected murder investigations should be closed down.
At present such enquiries always remain ‘open investigations’ and annually large sums of public money are spent pursuing old and new lines of enquiry.
As examples, Lancashire police still remain in the dogged pursuit of the person or people responsible for the 2003 disappearance and murder of 14-year-old Charlene Downes and the Metropolitan Police is still investigating the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal.The question being asked is; should the money that is being spent on these investigations be better spent elsewhere, for example on investigating current criminality?
Adding to this debate there are issues being raised about a large team investigating allegations relating to the conduct of British soldiers during the Iraq war. Former Colonel Bob Stewart has highlighted that the government has set aside £57m for investigating 152 allegations and there are fears the inquiry has become a legal ‘witch hunt’ driven by ‘ambulance-chasing’ lawyers.
Some people have chosen to immediately dismiss Mr Stelfox’s comments, but I think they are worthy of more detailed consideration.
I don’t think it’s possible to formally close down an undetected homicide inquiry forever, as any new information must surely be properly investigated.
However, it’s important that any new line of inquiry on an historic case is properly assessed, given an appropriate term of reference and subjected to a strict operational review. They should not become ‘tick box’ investigations, trying something when there is no reasonable prospect of success.
Also, historic high profile cases should not unnecessarily take operational precedence over current crime threats. In relation to the Iraq investigation, it appears to have been set in motion without appropriate planning.
An investigation is needed, but I fear some lower ranking soldiers will be ‘scapegoated’ for what were failings at a higher level.
Nationally too many investigators are focused on historic issues and that should not be happening if it is to the detriment of investigations into current major crimes.