It's too late to bring misconduct proceedings for the police failure to apprehend Robert Napper before he murdered Rachel Nickell and others

IPCC publishes Commissioner’s report in response to André Hanscombe’s police complaint

On 16 November 2009, André Hanscombe made a police complaint about the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigations of the crimes committed by Robert Napper, including the murder in July 1992 of Rachel Nickell, Mr Hanscombe’s partner.

In a Commissioner’s report published today, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) publicly acknowledges “dreadful” mistakes made by the MPS in a catalogue of bad decisions and errors and flawed investigations, without which Robert Napper could have been off the streets before he killed Rachel Nickell, Samantha and Jazmine Bisset, and before numerous women suffered violent sexual attacks at his hands between 1989 and 1995.

Although the police admitted some failures in a press conference following Robert Napper’s conviction, the police have never properly apologised to André or Alex Hanscombe, or explained what went wrong, which is why Mr Hanscombe pursued an official police complaint.

Today’s IPCC report confirms the extraordinary failures of the MPS, and their devastating consequences.

Mr Hanscombe has learned from the IPCC that, not only did the police fail to conduct competent investigations into Napper’s crimes, but until forced to do so relatively recently, they also failed to acknowledge or admit their own mistakes, and they have not credibly investigated them.

It is now too late for the IPCC to fully investigate all the aspects of Mr Hanscombe’s police complaint because almost every police officer involved is now retired and cannot therefore be subject to misconduct proceedings. Accordingly, Mr Hanscombe has not received the detailed explanation of the serious failings that he sought, or seen the relevant officers brought to account.

However, Mr Hanscombe welcomes the official public acknowledgment by the IPCC of the validity and seriousness of the failures that he set out in his complaint.

André Hanscombe made the following statement on hearing the outcome of his complaint:-
 
“I am pleased that my complaint against the MPS has been dealt with swiftly, conscientiously and sensitively.

It means a great deal to have these findings finally acknowledged officially by the IPCC, and to have heard the Commissioner express her horror and share my sense of shock and disbelief in how the police failed. But in spite of the best intentions of the IPCC, the excuses and lack of explanation for why we will never get all the answers and accountability that we sought are unacceptable.

It is important for people to know that this document would never have seen the light of day if it had not been for our determination to see all of the facts concerning this case brought out into the open in an official manner, rather than just through the media, as happened on the conviction of Robert Napper in December of 2008.

Alex and I had believed for years that Rachel’s killer was on the loose. This was at times an almost unbearable situation which hung over our lives for virtually all of Alex’s childhood, all the way up until late 2004 when I learnt during a phone-call from the police that someone new was to be charged within days. Then, another four years later, on the eve of Robert Napper’s guilty plea in 2008, Alex and I were suddenly confronted by a new reality, one in which Rachel may have lived or that the perpetrator might have been caught much earlier if the relevant investigations had been conducted competently.

Nothing is going to bring Rachel, Samantha or Jasmine back. But having had some time to come to terms with this new reality I now believe that the best way to serve those who paid most heavily for a catalogue of errors is to make sure that all the lessons have been learned, to make sure that this could never happen again."

His solicitor, Kate Maynard, said the following:-

“All those touched by these crimes have been let down by poor leadership and bad decision making by the senior investigators, prosecutors and experts who led the flawed police investigations. The consequences of these failings could not have been worse.

My client waited for 16 years for Rachel’s killer to be brought to justice, only to discover that her death (and others) might have been prevented were it not for all the mistakes in the investigation of the crimes committed by Robert Napper.

Whilst my client welcomes the findings of the IPCC Commissioner, and her recommendation that the police should publicly apologise to Alex and him, he is still digesting the report and considering if there is anything more to be done to understand these events and bring those responsible to account.”

For more information please contact:

Kate Maynard, Partner  Telephone: 00 44 (0)7812 974613

Notes

The missed opportunities for the police to admit and investigate their own failings include the following: 

i) In 1989, Robert Napper confessed to his mother that he had committed a rape on Plumstead Common. His mother reported the confession to the local police, but no investigation or follow up took place. The IPCC concludes that Robert Napper should have been spoken to in person about the report and an arrest considered, and that a statement should have been taken from his mother. By not following up this report, the IPCC finds that the police missed a vital opportunity to catch Napper before he killed Rachel Nickell. In 1995, the MPS acknowledged that Robert Napper’s rape confession had “considerable credibility”, but they failed to question or investigate the failure of the MPS to probe his mother’s crime report. If this failing had been investigated in 1995, a meaningful investigation might have revealed what went wrong as the manual crime ledgers would have been available.

ii) Robert Napper was positively eliminated from the Green Chain rapes investigation because he was taller than the 6ft limit which the police set. This was despite two members of the public identifying him from an e-fit, and one victim describing her attacker as 6ft 3”. The IPCC considers that the decision to set the upper height parameter at 6ft was seriously flawed, and in any event should have been reviewed when Napper’s name was given to the police by two members of the public. The IPCC were told verbally by a retired Commander that this failure was subject to an MPS internal investigation which led to a Detective Superintendent being retired on a full pension and a Detective Inspector receiving ‘words of advice’, yet the MPS kept this secret and have been unable to provide any record of the investigation or the outcome, and cannot even say when it took place.

iii) The “wholly inappropriate” and flawed investigation of the murder of Rachel Nickell which led to the stubborn pursuit of Colin Stagg was reviewed in 1995 by a Detective Superintendent. However, he concluded that that the investigation was based on a “sound strategy” and made “no criticism” of it despite Mr Justice Ognall describing it as “deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”. Colin Stagg continued to be the prime suspect for another decade.

iv) Colin Stagg is reported to have made a police complaint to the Police Complaints Authority (which preceded the IPCC) but it was suppressed and he never got any reply. The IPCC has been unable to find any trace of his complaint in the MPS or PCA archives.

v) Following the MPS realisation in 2004 that Robert Napper and not Colin Stagg had killed Rachel, no details have been disclosed by them of any disciplinary review of the catalogue of bad investigative decisions and errors in the investigation of Rachel’s murder that would have then become apparent.