How taxi driver Christopher Halliwell escaped justice over a police blunder

Elaine O'Callaghan mother of Sian O'Callaghan makes a statement with partner Pete Shawe outside Bristol Crown Court. Below: Christopher Halliwell
Elaine O'Callaghan mother of Sian O'Callaghan makes a statement with partner Pete Shawe outside Bristol Crown Court. Below: Christopher Halliwell
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TAXI driver Christopher Halliwell, who has admitted murdering nightclubber Sian O’Callaghan, has escaped justice over a second murder because of a police blunder, it can be reported today for the first time.

Halliwell, 48, pleaded guilty to killing Miss O’Callaghan during a hearing at Bristol Crown Court.

Christopher Halliwell, 48

Christopher Halliwell, 48

Halliwell, of Ashbury Avenue, Swindon, was also accused of murdering Becky Godden-Edwards but that charge was withdrawn following a ruling by a High Court judge - even though he led police to her body.

Mrs Justice Cox ruled that the confessions the father-of-three made to killing both women during a three-hour period on the day of his arrest were inadmissible because Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher breached police guidelines governing the interviewing of suspects.

The detective, who was leading the hunt for Miss O’Callaghan, failed to caution Halliwell and denied him a solicitor.

Police have vowed to get justice for Miss Godden-Edwards and revealed that Mr Fulcher has been suspended pending an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into allegations of “inappropriate contact with the media”.

Miss O’Callaghan, 22, disappeared after leaving Swindon’s Suju nightclub in the early hours of March 19 last year after a night out with friends.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out at Savernake Forest to help in the search for her but police found her body in Uffington, Oxfordshire, on March 24 after being taken there by Halliwell.

Miss Godden-Edwards’s remains were discovered at a Cotswold beauty spot after Halliwell was detained by detectives investigating the disappearance of Miss O’Callaghan.

Office worker Miss Godden-Edwards, who would have celebrated her 30th birthday earlier this year, was last seen by her family in Swindon more than eight years ago.

On the night she disappeared, Halliwell had signed off from work but instead of going home he cruised the streets of Swindon in his green Toyota Avensis taxi looking for a victim.

Miss O’Callaghan left the nightclub at 2.53am for the short walk to the home she shared with boyfriend Kevin Reape.

Shortly after she walked past the Goddard Arms on the High Street in the Old Town area, she fell into Halliwell’s clutches by getting into his taxi.

Halliwell was jailed for life today for murdering Miss O’Callaghan. Mrs Justice Cox told him he would serve at least 25 years.

Police believe Halliwell, who did not know her, took Miss O’Callaghan to the Savernake Forest where he murdered her.

Detectives discovered that in the 24 hours after Miss O’Callaghan was abducted, Halliwell made four visits to the area where her body was hidden.

It is thought that by the early hours of March 21, Halliwell had moved the body from the forest to the spot where it was later found.

He then attempted to cover his tracks by cleaning his car and burning his seat covers.

Halliwell even collected a police appeal poster of Miss O’Callaghan from outside Suju’s and put it in the rear window of his car.

While her disappearance made national headlines and hundreds of people volunteered to help search the Savernake Forest, Halliwell told a work colleague at Five Star taxis: “Who knows what or who you find buried out there. There could be loads of people over the years.”

Within three days, Halliwell was the prime suspect for Miss O’Callaghan’s kidnap and he was placed under 24-hour surveillance.

He was arrested at 11.06am on March 24 at an Asda car park in Swindon after he was seen buying a “significant” amount of pills - believed to be enough for an overdose.

Police used methods normally reserved for terrorism suspects to grill Halliwell and detectives described him as looking “like a rabbit caught in the headlights”. He stayed silent.

But Halliwell was being driven to a police station when Mr Fulcher overruled junior officers and had him taken to a rural castle in Wiltshire.

Over a three-hour period - without being cautioned or offered a solicitor - Halliwell admitted he was a “sick f*****”, confessed to murdering the two women and showed police the locations of their bodies.

During that time, Halliwell was threatened by Mr Fulcher with being vilified in newspapers.

Eventually he was taken to a police station and cautioned. Before a solicitor even arrived, Mr Fulcher announced live on television that Miss O’Callaghan’s remains had been found and the location of a second body identified to police.

Miss O’Callaghan’s body was found down a steep bank.

She was discovered lying face-down and half-naked. Sections of cloth appeared to have been cut from her leggings and underwear.

A swab taken from an injury to her left breast revealed a mixed DNA profile with components from Halliwell - showing him to be a possible contributor.

A forensic odontologist inspected the injury and concluded that biting might have caused the bruising. But Halliwell refused to supply a dental impression.

A post-mortem examination found that Miss O’Callaghan died from the combined effects of two stab wounds to the head and neck, as well as compression to the neck.

There was further evidence of blunt trauma to the back of the head and areas of external deep bruising to her face.

The trauma to Miss O’Callaghan’s head could have been caused either by her falling, by being pushed to the ground, or by her head being forcibly struck by a broad object.

This resulted in a fracture to the skull and the bruising on her body was consistent with being punched or kicked.

There was also evidence of bruising to the neck, which could have been caused by either compression, blunt force trauma or a combination of both.

Home Office pathologist Dr Amanda Jeffrey concluded that those injuries could have been caused by either deliberate strangulation or attempts at restraining Miss O’Callaghan by the neck.

Forensic examinations found Miss O’Callaghan’s blood in the rear of Halliwell’s car and police also had CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) evidence to put him in the Old Town area when she vanished.

Detective Chief Superintendent Kier Pritchard, of Wiltshire Police, said Halliwell had carefully planned the murder of Miss O’Callaghan and attempted to cover his tracks.

“This was a violent and brutal murder of a young woman in the prime of her life,” Mr Pritchard said.

“It is likely that Sian suffered horrifically from the point that she was abducted.

“We can only imagine how Sian suffered in those last moments. Halliwell has shown himself to be a despicable man and has shown no remorse throughout.

“On that night there was clearly an element of premeditation. He closed his links with the taxi company but continued to cruise the streets of Swindon looking for a victim.

“He used his position as a taxi driver, with no doubt, to coax Sian into the vehicle.

“From that moment - abusing that position of trust - he drove her in the opposite direction.

“He has then used extreme violence in the attack on Sian, culminating in the use of a weapon in the final aspects of her murder.

“This also had an element of a sexual offence. He then tried to use every opportunity to conceal her murder by moving her body and destroying evidence.

“Christopher Halliwell can only be described as a despicable man and today justice has been delivered and he has been brought to justice for the murder of Sian.”

Mr Pritchard said the investigation into Miss Godden-Edwards’s murder would look at whether other people had fallen victim to Halliwell.

“That continues as part of the live investigation,” he said.

“Clearly we would like to bring Becky’s killer to justice. Part of the investigation will be to look at whether there are other crimes and other victims.

“It is very much an open line of inquiry.”

In passing sentence Mrs Justice Cox rejected the account put forward by his counsel, Richard Latham QC.

“You have pleaded guilty to the murder of Sian O’Callaghan, a much loved daughter, sister and partner - a happy, lively and caring young woman who enriched the lives of all those who knew her and who had everything to live for.

“Your account bears all the hallmarks of an account carefully designed to try and explain away separate aspects of the evidence relied upon by the prosecution,” she said.

“You stopped and no doubt offered her, or persuaded her to have a taxi ride home, because she got into your taxi.

“Poignantly her partner had advised her never to walk home alone but to always use a taxi.

“She probably had that advice in mind when she got into your taxi, thinking that she would be safe; that it was the right thing to do.

“But she soon would have realised, with horror, that you were not taking her home because you drove off in the opposite direction - out of Swindon towards Marlborough and the Savernake Forest - a distance it would have taken about half an hour to drive.

“Having regard to all the evidence and in particular the telephone evidence relating to the location of Sian’s mobile I reject the suggestion that you were initially told to drive to Covingham.

“I am sure you knew exactly what you were doing when Sian got inside your taxi.”

The judge continued: “What exactly you did to her, and why you did it, may never be known.

“You went home later that morning, but Sian did not. You had assaulted her and murdered her and you had left her body somewhere in the Forest area.

“I am entirely satisfied that you intended to kill her.

“On March 24 Sian’s body was found, partially concealed amongst the undergrowth and positioned down a steep bank where she would not readily be seen.

“She was lying face down and she was naked from the waist down to her ankles. Her leggings and underwear were wrapped around her ankles and fabric from these items of clothing had been cut away in the crotch and buttock areas.

“Her bra had been removed and a torn bra strap was found in the sleeve of her cardigan.

“The cause of Sian’s death was considered to be the combined effects of two stab wounds to her head and neck and compression of the neck.

“You had stabbed her twice with a knife and there is little doubt that they were the fatal wounds. You admit that you kept a knife in your car for self-protection.”

The judge said that one of the injuries inflicted upon Miss O’Callaghan with a knife would have required “severe force”.

“These, then, were the physical injuries you inflicted upon that young woman in what was clearly a savage and brutal attack.

“The pain, terror, anguish and desperation she would have suffered, as you assaulted and then murdered her, is truly horrifying to contemplate.

“But her terror would have started long before then. She would have been terrified and panic-stricken right from the moment she realised that you were not going to drive her home.

“She was terrified, helpless and alone.”

The judge said that Miss O’Callaghan’s murder did involve sexual conduct.

“After circling the area where you eventually saw Sian, you deliberately abducted this attractive young girl, who was alone late at night, and you drove her some distance away,” the judge said.

“Her injuries included injuries to her left breast and nipple consistent with bites or another form of aggressive assault.

“Her body was found half naked, with her leggings and underwear around her ankles.

“These factors, together with the cutting away of fabric from those items of clothing in the crotch area and the removal of her bra, point clearly to sexual conduct.

“Had Sian survived, this evidence would have amounted to evidence of a sexual assault.

“There are a number of aggravating features in this case.

“You abused your position as a taxi driver, in a car clearly marked as a taxi, and as someone Sian thought she could trust; her abduction was clearly premeditated; as a young woman walking alone late at night and under the influence of drink she was a vulnerable victim; there was here a prolonged period of time in which she would have suffered extreme fear and terror as well as severe pain from the injuries you inflicted upon her; and you made extensive efforts to conceal her body.

“There is little advanced by way of mitigation. I accept, however, that your plea of guilty has avoided Sian’s family having to endure a trial, which is an important factor.”

Outside court, Detective Chief Superintendent Kier Pritchard, head of protective services at Wiltshire Police, read a statement.

He said: “Today Christopher Halliwell has pleaded guilty to the murder of Sian O’Callaghan on March 19 2011.

“Firstly I’d like to express our deepest sympathy for the family and friends of Sian. I can only imagine how hard the last 18 months has been for them and how difficult it must have been to have heard in court today how violently Sian was attacked before her death.

“Sian’s family and loved ones have shown great dignity throughout the court process, resulting in Halliwell’s guilty plea today.

“I hope this conviction will in some way help the family to move forward with their lives.

“Sian’s disappearance received high profile media coverage and unprecedented support from the whole community.

“Hundreds of people went out of their way to help and support Wiltshire Police in our search for Sian who disappeared after a night out with friends in Swindon.

“Shortly after leaving a local nightclub Sian was abducted by Christopher Halliwell, a taxi driver.

“He had booked off duty but had continued to circle around the area of Old Town, Swindon looking for a victim.

“After he took Sian, he then drove her to the outskirts of Swindon and into the Savernake Forest area near Marlborough.

“He violently attacked her, subjected her to a sexual assault and murdered her. Six days later police officers found her body in a remote location south of Uffington.

“This was a complex and fast moving investigation and from the outset the priority of the senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, was always to try and find Sian alive but unfortunately this was not possible.

“This was a violent and brutal murder of a young woman in the prime of her life. It is likely that Sian suffered horrifically from the point that she was abducted.

“Halliwell, in committing this crime, betrayed his position of trust as a taxi driver as he preyed on a lone vulnerable female.

“Today the court heard that there was clear evidence of premeditation. We can only imagine how Sian must have suffered throughout this ordeal and in those last moments.

“Christopher Halliwell went on to conceal Sian’s body and attempted to destroy the evidence of his violent crime. He has shown himself to be a despicable man and has shown no remorse throughout.

“Whilst Halliwell’s admission of guilt today may go some way to help the family grieve, it will not bring Sian back who was needlessly and tragically taken from them.

“Finally, crimes of this nature are extremely rare in Wiltshire and I would particularly like to thank our local communities for their overwhelming support and compassion.

“Today’s hearing was about bringing justice for Sian’s family. They have continued to display great courage and dignity and we hope this will provide them with some comfort at this most difficult time.”

Addressing Miss O’Callaghan’s family, the judge had said: “I address these remarks to you as throughout the many months that have passed since the death of Sian I acknowledge that you have had to live, not only with that tragedy, but with legal argument that you no doubt found complex and delays you found frustrating, you have behaved throughout this case with quiet dignity, patience and courtesy.

“You have had today to listen to details of Sian’s last hours, all of which will have been acutely distressing for you.

“I understand entirely that your lives have been shattered at Sian’s loss in such a cruel and pointless way.

“I pay tribute to you all for everything you have had to endure and the dignified way you have acted throughout this case.

“Sian can never be restored to you but I hope that you feel that today in this court justice has been served.”

The judge also paid tribute to the “very hard work” carried out by a team of police officers involved in the investigation into Miss O’Callaghan’s murder.

“Clearly the evidence that accumulated was carefully done, thoughtfully done and extended into a compelling picture,” she said.

Speaking outside court, flanked by members of her family, Miss O’Callaghan’s mother said: “The devastating loss of Sian in such a brutal way has been for my family, Kevin, and everyone who knew Sian, a burden to live with.

“The overwhelming response of support has been a comfort to us. She will continue to inspire us and never be forgotten. As her mum, I will remember her as the incredible person that she was.

“I would like to pay tribute to Sian’s brothers and sister for their immense strength, conduct, composure, dignity and support throughout this immensely distressing time.

“Christopher Halliwell has by his actions taken my daughter and caused unimaginable distress. The sentencing today of Halliwell will not bring Sian back, but will mean he can’t take any more.

“We will all endeavour to get on with our lives, the way Sian would have wanted. Our memories of her warmth and happy nature will all be in our thoughts and hearts. That can’t be taken away from us, or anyone who knew her.”

The victim’s father, Mr O’Callaghan, added: “It has been a very emotional day. Justice has been done today.

“I would like to thank our QC, the CPS and the police. I also want to put on record what a wonderful job DCS Fulcher did in finding my daughter so early.

“Our thoughts go to Becky’s family.”