BLOG: Update on changing PACE

This week marks the third anniversary of the terrible events which led to the discovery of the murders of two Swindon women, and sparked a huge campaign for a change in the law.  Three years on, it’s hard to miss the posters calling for ‘Justice for Becky’ or the petition on social media. It’s a reference of course to Becky Godden-Edwards and the fact that her killer has so far escaped justice. Recently there have been significant developments, but first it’s worth remembering the background to this tragic case.

On 24 March 2011, police investigating the disappearance of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan arrested Swindon taxi driver Christopher Halliwell.  He was later jailed for life for her murder.  On the day he was caught, Halliwell confessed to murdering a second woman, Becky Godden-Edwards, whose disappearance had been unsolved for a decade.  Halliwell led Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher to Becky’s remains in a field north of Swindon.  However, Halliwell was never tried, convicted or sentenced for Becky’s murder, because DS Fulcher had not followed strict procedures laid down in a law known as PACE.

DS Fulcher was suspended pending an investigation, but it’s now been decided that although he had not followed the rules, he will be reinstated.  I believe this decision is correct given the exceptional circumstances of the case.  It’s also been welcomed by Becky’s mother Karen Edwards, who thanks DS Fulcher for helping to find her daughter after so long.  However Karen is still fighting for justice, and it’s a fight I fully support. Changes should be made to PACE so that investigating officers have more flexibility in the way they deal with suspects. Whilst any future change will not be able to affect this case, it is Mrs Edwards’ fervent wish that something positive emerges from this.

I have now become Chairman of the Conservative backbench Home Affairs Committee and am a member of the Party’s Home Affairs Policy Commission. Among other ideas, we’ll be looking at the increased use of mobile technology to help the police with their work away from the police station. If this technology had been available on the day Halliwell was arrested, the chain of events might have been different. Mrs Edwards continues to gather more signatures for her petition calling for a change to PACE and I continue to make the case for modernisation. I am consulting with fellow lawyers about my proposals and continue to engage directly with Home Office Ministers on this.  There are calls for a parliamentary debate on the subject, and that is something I am also exploring.

Exactly three years since Halliwell’s arrest, the fight continues to give Karen, and Becky, the justice they deserve.

(This article was originally posted in the Swindon Advertiser on 26th March 2014)