Halliwell - the detective's gamble

Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher at a press conference in Swindon on the murder of Sian O'Callaghan Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

It was the biggest gamble of the detective’s professional life.

Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher stood face-to-face with killer Chris Halliwell in the Wiltshire countryside, pleading with the minicab driver to tell him where he had abandoned Sian O’Callaghan.

In doing so, the detective was throwing away the rulebook. Ignoring advice from a deputy, breaching protocols and regulations, DS Fulcher got the answer he was so desperate for. Halliwell confessed, yes, he had murdered Sian O’Callaghan. And he had killed before.

Chris Halliwell has been jailed for life for the murder of Sian O'Callaghan Credit: Wiltshire Police

The confession was unique. DS Fulcher had denied Halliwell the right to a lawyer, refused the minicab driver’s demands to be taken immediately to a police station, not even cautioned Halliwell as suspects normally are. He wanted to speak with Halliwell man-to-man, detective-to-suspect.

And this confession would lead to the policeman himself being put in the dock, accused by Halliwell’s lawyers to have abused his position. It led to one of the two murder charges against Halliwell being dropped. Tonight Steve Fulcher is also suspended from the force for another matter.

But DS Fulcher sums it up like this: “What’s more important? The victim’s right to life or the defendant’s right to silence?”

This was the most dramatic moment in surely the most dramatic investigation Wiltshire Police has seen in its long history.

It happened like this.

After two days’ surveillance DS Fulcher was sure Halliwell was his man. But he didn’t know if Sian O’Callaghan was alive or dead or where she was.

Normally when a suspect is arrested they are normally cautioned under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE)’s regular protocols, he is taken to a police station straight away and provided with immediate legal advice.

But DS Fulcher had a second plan. The night before the arrest he was told of a second type of caution called an ‘Urgent Interview.’

An Urgent Interview is usually reserved for terrorism cases where there is an immediate threat to ‘life and limb.’ But the advice to DS Fulcher was that Sian may still be alive, and if so, there was a threat to her. So they could use this rare procedure.

DS Fulcher took a gamble in the hope that Sian was still alive Credit: Facebook

Official papers describe the moment of Halliwell’s arrest in a supermarket car park as ‘robust.’ He was armlocked, shoved to the floor and handcuffed. The two arresting officers cautioned him under the Urgent Interview rules.

Halliwell refused to comment.

The officers started to drive Halliwell to the custody suite at Gablecross Police Station in Swindon.

DS Fulcher had been ‘pacing the floor’ of the inquiry room. When the call came through saying Halliwell was refusing to cooperate, he decided on that gamble.

The detective ordered the car turn around and take Halliwell to Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hillfort south of Swindon, where DS Fulcher believed Ms O’Callaghan was most likely to be.

When Halliwell arrived, DS Fulcher was there. The policeman would later say this was ‘A last appeal to him to give me some indication of where Sian O’Callaghan was’ so as to save her life. He wanted to ‘look him in the eye and to ask one thing - will you take me to Sian?’

This huge gamble was taken against the advice of DS Fulcher’s own deputy. DS Kirby said it was not a good idea and they would be ‘sailing very close to the wind.’

According to an undisputed summary, the exchange went like this:

Steve Fulcher: “Are you going to tell me where Sian is?”

Chris Halliwell: “I don’t know anything.”

SF: “Are you prepared to tell me where Sian is?”

CH: “You think I did it?”

SF: “I know you did it.”

CH: “Can I go to the station?”

SF: You can go to the station. What will happen is you will be vilified.If you tell me where Sian is, you would have done the right thing.”

CH: “I want to speak to a solicitor.”

SF: “You will speak to a solicitor. I’m giving you an opportunity to tell me where Sian is. By the end of this cycle you will be vilified, tell me where Sian is.”

CH: “Have you got a car? We’ll go.”

But this interview was carried out without a new caution. Later DS Fulcher said he didn’t want to open the interview by reminding Halliwell that he was entitled to not say anything. Back to his main point: “What’s more important? The victim’s right to life or the defendant’s right to silence?”

The police caution is important. It is a framework to stop abuses of power, to stop ‘dodgy’ confessions and miscarriages of justice which were so well-known and publicised in the 1960s and 1970s. No-one in this case has argued that DS Fulcher’s actions were anything like that, though.

As they were driven, Halliwell giving directions, DS Fulcher kept asking the suspect more questions, again with no new caution. DS Fulcher said: “If I took him out of that moment he might dry up.”

Sian's remains were discovered in a copse near the Uffington White Horse Credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Halliwell directed them to a spot 20 miles north next to the B4507 near the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire. He showed police a copse and said Sian’s body was there. He could not find it but police put up search markers and later that day her remains would be discovered.

DS Fulcher said he would hand Halliwell over to a constable and he would be arrested for murder. Halliwell said ‘You and me need to have a chat.’

DS Fulcher and Halliwell were driven to a road on the Uffington White Horse, out of view from members of the public. They got out of the car and walked 30 metres away, two men, detective and killer, smoking cigarettes.

It was at this point Halliwell turned to DS Fulcher and said ‘Do you want another one?’

They got back into the car.

Again DS Fulcher made no attempt to arrest or caution Halliwell. He thought ‘it might be the only chance to find out what he wanted to show me. I believed the right thing to do was to obtain the information we were going to get, not contain it.’

The drive lasted around 45 minutes. On the way Halliwell opened up, became emotional and said ‘normal people don’t go around killing each other.’

They reached a country lane near Eastleach in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. There was a drystone wall bordering a field. Halliwell found a dip in the ancient wall, climbed over and putting toe-to-heel counted steps into the field. He said he had taken a prostitute from Swindon years before. He didn’t know her name, he couldn’t remember what year he had killed her even. But she was buried just here.

DS Fulcher had no markers with him so he asked one of the accompanying police officers to stand on that spot in the field - and not move.

Tributes at the scene near Eastleach, Gloucestershire where the body of Becky Godden was found Credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Days later the remains of a young woman would be found buried there. She would be identified as Becky Godden who was last seen in Swindon in December 2002.

Halliwell was taken away to the police station. He was ‘processed’, cautioned, a solicitor came but when DS Fulcher interviewed him his answers were now all the same ‘No Comment.’

In court, Chris Halliwell was represented by Richard Latham QC, the barrister who successfully prosecuted Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr in the ‘Soham murders’ trial.

Mr Latham argued that as all of Halliwell’s confessions had been obtained without legal representation and under no meaningful caution, they could not be presented to a jury.

At a hearing held under reporting restrictions earlier this year, the judge, Dame Justice Cox agreed. She said: “The whole series of events began with a deliberate decision by a senior officer to breach the codes...”

As the only evidence linking Halliwell to Becky is his confession, the charge was dropped. Even though he had admitted his guilt to police, he got away with one count of murder. With DNA and surveillance material connecting him to Sian, today he pleaded guilty to killing that young woman.

Today, Becky Godden’s family is divided over DS Fulcher’s actions. Her father John Godden, has brought a case against Wiltshire Police to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Speaking on his behalf, exclusively to The West Country Tonight, his sister Tina said: “How could they fail to caution him? Not once, but three times? He’s got away with murder.”

But Becky’s mother Karen Edwards is supportive. She believes if it had not been for DS Fulcher’s big risk they would still be living in the false belief that their daughter is living in Bristol and living with the false hope they may see her alive again.

Now they have had a chance to say goodbye properly.

DS Fulcher was promoted to the National Policing Improvement Agency. But this year he was brought back to Wiltshire Police.

And now he is suspended from the force. This follows a claim of ‘inappropriate contact’ with a member of the media, he is suspended on full pay pending an investigation by the IPCC.