I am sure that all of us in our local community are relieved that Christopher Halliwell has finally been brought to justice for the murder of Becky Godden. It has been a long and tortuous process since Becky's remains were discovered in 2011, after Halliwell made admissions to the police and led them to the field where she had been buried. My thoughts are with Becky's family, who have had to endure the horror of the appalling revelations and the uncertainty of an unresolved criminal process.
This harrowing case was in many ways an exceptional one that posed many challenges for the investigating police officers. It was frustrating to say the least that Halliwell's confession was ruled to be inadmissible evidence because of breaches of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice. From my years of experience working in the criminal justice system, I worked with Becky’s Mother, Karen Edwards, to seek changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) so that in such exceptional circumstances involving a serious crime, then the requirement to go to the police station could be lifted. PACE is there to protect the police as much as the public. Without it, there could be a potential challenge to the way officers have behaved in every case and the guilty might go free. It is a vital part of our system of justice, but it does need to keep up with the vast technological changes that have occurred since its creation in the mid 1980s.
I also campaigned alongside Becky's mother and my constituent, Karen Edwards, for the use of body-worn cameras by police officers. This welcome change, already being used by the Metropolitan Police, will transform the way in which our policing is carried out. I was extremely glad to hear at a recent meeting of the Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board that body worn cameras will be adopted by our local police over the next year or so. I was also glad to hear that digital recording equipment will finally replace the tape recorder too. This will greatly help the police in their work and will provide us with ever more reliable sources of evidence.
One of my key priorities since becoming your MP in 2010, has been making sure that Swindon delivers high-quality education services and support to all of our children, from pre-school through to college and beyond. In the last parliament, I helped to secure £10 million for Pupil Premium, extra school funding worth £150 per student and the construction of two new secondary schools.
Swindon is one of the fastest growing areas of the country and it is vital that we continue to secure additional school places to keep up with the demand and provide education opportunities for children that will lead to the right skills and right jobs in the right places.
I am pleased that my colleagues in the Department of Education have recently approved proposals for three new free schools in Swindon. Proposals for the 420-place Middle Wichel Church of England Academy Primary School, which will be part of the Wichelstowe development, and proposals for East Village Church of England Academy, another 420 place primary school to be located in the New Eastern Villages, have both been approved. A decision about where Brunel ASC Free School, a 50-place secondary school for children with special educational needs, could be situated will be taken later. Money to build the schools will be provided by the Government’s Education Fund Agency and through Section 106 developer contributions.
I am delighted to have been asked to open an event at the Ellendune Centre in Wroughton this coming Saturday (1st October) to celebrate National Older Persons Day. The free event is open to members of the public and will be a chance for older people living in the area, and their family and friends, to find out about what services are on offer to help them to stay safe, secure, healthy and independent in their own homes.
As a community, we all have a responsibility to identify elderly people with care needs such as loneliness and provide support to improve their health and wellbeing. During my time as a Member of Parliament, I’ve worked with many of the local charities, community groups and services who support older people and ensure they can make the most of the later years and I will continue to do all that I can to help elderly residents in my constituency.