Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Soham Murders Trial

Problems Abound

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Home Secretary David Blunkett

As news of the verdict swept across the country, previous allegations made against Huntley surfaced. Between 1995 and 1999 there were four accusations of underage sex involving girls between 13 and 15 years of age, three rape allegations and one of indecent assault against an 11-year-old girl. However, a lack of evidence and the refusal of some of the girls to press charges made it difficult for investigators to secure a conviction. Huntley had also been arrested and charged with burglary in 1996, but the charges were eventually dropped because, like with the other allegations, there was not enough evidence.

On the day of Huntley's conviction, Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that he would launch an inquiry into why the earlier accusations against Huntley were not brought to the forefront, as well as "the vetting system" that failed to stop Huntley from getting a job as a school caretaker, the BBC reported. There was also a great deal of concern about how the police dealt with the investigation into Holly and Jessica's murders. The inquiry, which opened on January 13, 2004 and lasted approximately five weeks, found that there were indeed critical errors made by police and other organizations involved in the intelligence system.

Sharon and Leslie, Jessica Chapman's parents
Sharon and Leslie, Jessica Chapman's

Interestingly, most of the complaints attributed to Huntley were never linked together because of miscommunication between the bureaus involved in handling the cases and procedural flaws. For example, a February 26, 2004 BBC news article suggested that some of the sex attack reports that were sent to the divisional intelligence bureau were accidentally deleted "during a ''weeding' process of the records systems by civilian staff in July 2000. Such problems made it difficult for investigators to gain a full understanding of the potential danger Huntley posed to society. Had investigators had access to all of the reports and been able to link all of the allegations together, they would have likely discovered that he was a budding serial rapist with a fascination for vulnerable young girls. The information could have also led to closer scrutiny of Huntley and may have even prevented the deaths of Holly and Jessica.    

Other problems included "check system" mistakes made by the Cambridgeshire police force, which resulted in Huntley getting a job at Soham College. A December 17, 2003 BBC News article stated that during police background checks into Huntley on a national police database, his name and date of birth were entered incorrectly, thus revealing no record of a criminal history. His employers claimed that had they known about his past, Huntley would have never been hired at the school.

Kevin and Nicola, Holly Wells' parents
Kevin and Nicola, Holly Wells' parents

There were also problems discovered concerning the investigation into Holly and Jessica's murders. A 2004 article stated that from the onset of the investigation it took the police nearly two weeks before they were aware of Huntley's previous sexual allegations. Moreover, the article claimed that his story was "not effectively checked out early during the investigation."

Karen McVeigh reported in a June 23, 2004 Scotsman article that Sir Michael Bichard delivered his own damning report concerning the investigation into Huntley's previous allegations. Bichard suggested in the article that the Humberside police force's intelligence system, which dealt with some of the cases, was "fundamentally flawed" and its child-protection database "largely worthless." According to McVeigh, many of the investigative problems were blamed on the chief constable of Humberside, David Westwood who allegedly "failed to identify Ian Huntley as a danger."

David Westwood, Humberside chief constable
David Westwood, Humberside
chief constable

Based on Bichard's report and the inquiry, Blunkett decided to suspend Westwood, despite the disapproval of the police authority and Holly's parents who believed it was unfair for him to be the sole target of blame. After 12 weeks of heated controversy over Westwood's handling of Huntley's previous allegations, his suspension was lifted. Westwood, who "believed he was uniquely placed to carry forward the necessary reforms to his force," struck a deal with Blunkett that he would retire from his post in March 2005, BBC News reported on September 14, 2004. The Humberside police force intelligence system, as well as others around the UK, are currently undergoing major changes to prevent other criminals like Huntley from slipping through the net and further endangering the lives of innocents like Holly and Jessica.

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