A Confession

Portrait of my friend and former Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher
June 2019

Meeting up with Steve for this portrait shoot had a particular poignancy, as it is not very often that a close friend is about to be portrayed by a Hollywood star in a prime time British TV drama.

Written by BAFTA award-winning writer Jeff PopeA Confession stars Martin Freeman as D.S. Steve Fulcher and details the 2011 police investigation of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan's disappearance after a night out in Swindon. At the heart of the story, however, is the moral dilemma between pursuing justice, doing the right thing and following the rules. I have known Steve for many years and followed his fight to bring to public attention shortcomings in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). It’s a fight that has cost him his career and stripped him of his reputation and that will now, at last, be widely seen when in September ITV will air their six-part drama.

The story focuses on the events following Sian's disappearance in March 2011. After a huge police search investigators began to focus on local cab driver, Christopher Halliwell. As their prime suspect for her abduction, he was put on 24-hour surveillance in the hope that he would lead them to Sian, alive. When Halliwell was seen purchasing a potentially suicidal overdose police swooped in to arrest him. At this point, it became critical he was interviewed, because if Sian O'Callaghan was still alive, she needed to be found urgently. In these extraordinary circumstances, Steve, as the senior investigating officer decided that Sian's right to life trumped his suspect, Christopher Halliwell's, right to silence and legal advice upon arrest.

He ordered that Halliwell be bought directly to him at Barbury Castle, an iron age fort outside Swindon, where the search for Sian was focused. The belief that Sian could be alive necessitated an urgent interview at the site of the search with Halliwell, which is irregular, but legal and allowed under PACE regulations. It was there on that windy grey hill where the two men talked and talked that Fulcher eventually convinced Halliwell to free himself of guilt and to give up Sian. He confessed to her murder and agreed to take Steve and his team to the spot where he had left her body. Soon after leading police to Sian he volunteered further information, in his words 'Do you want another?' Believing that he had the trust of Halliwell in these intense moments, Fulcher did not immediately read him his rights, as he should have, because the provision of an urgent interview was no longer valid now that Sian's body was found.

By not immediately reading Halliwell his rights and deliberately breaching PACE rules he failed to remind Halliwell that he could, of course, stay silent or offer him a solicitor, almost a guarantee that he would stay silent. Instead, he allowed Halliwell to lead him and his team to a field in Gloucestershire. Once at the field, Halliwell paced out precise steps from a small stone wall leading to the shallow grave of Becky Godden-Edwards who he had murdered some eight years before. At the end of this long day, Halliwell finally arrived at Swindon's Gablecross police station, a solicitor was summoned, he gave no further evidence.

In October 2011 at Bristol Crown Court Christopher Halliwell's defence team was able to make inadmissible his murder confessions including the fact that he had indicated where Sian O'Callaghan and Becky Godden-Edwards bodies lay. Police did have other strong forensic, telephony and CCTV evidence that eventually meant Halliwell pleaded guilty to Sian's murder. However, Halliwell did not stand trial for Becky's murder. Why? Because after hearing 'Do you want another?' rather than allowing Halliwell to lead him to another murder victim, Fulcher should have read Halliwell his rights, taken him to the nearest police station and interviewed him in the presence of a solicitor. A solicitor whose legal duty is to ensure that his client does not incriminate himself. 

Because Christopher Halliwell did not face charges for Becky's murder Steve Fulcher was reported to the Police Complaints Commission. Eventually, Fulcher was found guilty of gross misconduct and he resigned from the police. Becky Godden-Edwards' mother, Karen Edwards, views are telling:
“Had it not been for the actions of Steve Fulcher I would never have known what had happened to my daughter, Steve Fulcher gave me the ultimately terrible news that I dreaded; what had happened to my long-missing daughter.” She saw Fulcher as a 'hero hung out to dry', a victim of rules that are not fit for purpose.

Steve was unrepentant stating:
My view is that I have brought two daughters back to their mothers and I’ve prevented other victims resulting from Halliwell’s continued pursuit of his career as a serial killer. But for my course of action, Becky would still be in that field, Sian would never be found and Christopher Halliwell would be walking the streets.”

The perverse outcome of this case meant a multiple murderer, who freely confessed to two murders, was able to have one confession made inadmissible and not even answer for the second. Very few of us, thankfully, will ever have to face the type of dilemma Steve did that fateful day. Fewer still, I suspect, would have shown Steve’s courage and conviction in his pursuit to do the right thing.

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Six-part drama A Confession will air on ITV starting 2nd September 2019