A Confession: Dramatising the infamous Swindon murders of Becky Godden and Sian O'Callaghan

  • Watch A Confession: As told by ITV News

When detective Steve Fulcher broke arrest guidelines to persuade a serial killer to admit murdering two women, his gamble was hailed as brilliant policing.

But soon it backfired. Spectacularly.

Christopher Halliwell’s lawyers argued successfully that the confession should not be put before a jury.

This is the central thrust of the ITV drama, starring Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and

Joe Absolom, which has been gripping audiences for the past six weeks.

It is based on a true story.

Martin Freeman plays Det Supt Steve Fulcher in ITV drama A Confession. Credit: ITV

Martin Freeman plays Det Supt Steve Fulcher, the officer who took the monumental gamble which secured the admission but which also led to his own downfall.

Joe Absolom plays the Swindon taxi driver Christopher Halliwell who had taken the lives of two you women.

But the story is no work of fiction. It is based on a true-life inquiry which led to a police officer losing his career.

  • Martin Freeman - plays Supt Det Steve Fulcher

In March 2011, Sian O’Callaghan vanished on a night out in Swindon. The 22-year-old office worker had been out with friends, got separated from them and left the nightclub alone.

She wasn’t seen alive again.

Her boyfriend raised the alarm and soon Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher was leading the inquiry into her disappearance.

Det Supt Fulcher had risen through the ranks at Sussex Police before moving to Wiltshire. At Wiltshire he had solved several murders while simultaneously gaining a Masters Degree in Criminology from the University of Cambridge.

He was an experienced police officer who knew what he was doing. And he decided this would be treated as a missing person inquiry, rather than a murder.

CCTV of Sian’s last-known moments led him to 47-year-old father-of-three Christopher Halliwell.

Officers arrested Halliwell, but rather than read him his rights, provide him with a lawyer and bring him to a police station, Det Supt Fulcher said he wanted to speak with Halliwell ‘man-to-man.’

Martin Freeman and Joe Absolom in 'A Confession' Credit: ITV Studios

The detective and suspect met at Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort near Swindon, where Fulcher believed Halliwell may be keeping Sian alive.

He wanted to use what he believed were emergency powers, to be used only when there is an imminent threat to life. These are usually reserved for terrorist cases.

Halliwell admitted he had murdered Sian, and directed Det Supt Fulcher and his team to her body near Uffington, Oxfordshire.

But then Halliwell had a second horrific confession. He had murdered before. He took the team to a field in Gloucestershire where the remains of a second woman were later found.

She was identified as Becky Godden.

Fulcher had not cautioned Halliwell as he should have under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

  • Jeff Pope, Executive Producer and Writer - explains PACE.

As the criminal proceedings were thrown into jeopardy, Det Supt Fulcher faced gross misconduct hearings.

He maintains that he would not have persuaded Halliwell to confess had he not taken this gamble.

He was investigated by the police watchdog, the IPCC and found guilty of Gross Misconduct. He was allowed to keep his job, but later resigned. His career was in tatters.

It’s an almost insoluble problem. It’s when these forces collide. What is right and what is wrong? I can understand what happened to Fulcher happened to Fulcher.

Jeff Pope, Executive Producer and Writer

Becky’s mother, Karen Edwards, began a petition calling for a change to arrest guidelines.

She took it to Downing Street.

But Becky’s family was having to wait for justice. A re-investigation began and evidence re-analysed. A new team found witnesses and analysis showed a spade seized from Halliwell’s shed in 2011 had the same unique soil DNA as the field in which Becky was found.

Halliwell was convicted of Becky’s murder in September 2016. It took a jury just two hours to find him guilty.

Fulcher has lost his career, he works as a security consultant in Africa. He has written a memoir ‘Catching A Serial Killer’ upon which “A Confession’ is partly based.

And despite Karen Edwards’ best efforts, there have been no changes to arrest guidelines.

  • Karen Edwards

A Confession is a six-part ITV drama. Oscar-nominated scriptwriter Jeff Pope based the drama on Det Supt Fulcher’s memoirs and independent research.

Martin Freeman plays Det Supt Fulcher, Imelda Staunton is Karen Edwards, Becky’s mother, Siobhan Finneran features as Elaine Pickford, Sian’s mother. Joe Absolom plays the killer Christopher Halliwell.

Martin Freeman in 'A Confession' as Steve Fulcher Credit: ITV