IPCC orders police to apologise over Rachel Nickell murderer

Scotland Yard told to apologise for decisions relating to Robert Napper, who killed mother and daughter after Nickell

A series of police blunders left a dangerous man free to murder two women, a four-year-old girl, and commit a series of sexual attacks, an official report today found.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission report says that Scotland Yard should publicly apologise to Rachel Nickell's partner, André Hanscombe, whose complaint led to the findings.

Robert Napper was convicted in 2008 of murdering Nickell in 1992 as she walked on Wimbledon Common, London, with her two-year-old son, Alex.

He was previously convicted of the 1993 murders of Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter, Jazmine.

The IPCC report said: "It is clear that a catalogue of bad decisions and errors by the Metropolitan police service led to missed opportunities to take Robert Napper off the streets before he killed Rachel Nickell and the Bissets, and before numerous women suffered violent sexual attacks at his hands."

The report finds that police first missed a chance to catch Napper three years before Nickell was murdered. In 1989 his mother called police to say he had confessed to her that he had raped someone, but no action was taken.

Scotland Yard became convinced that Colin Stagg had murdered Nickell and he stood trial in 1994. But the judge threw out the case and castigated the police over their actions.

But the Met remained convinced those actions had been correct and that Stagg was guilty. The IPCC found little evidence the police were looking for anyone else for six years, from 1995 to 2001. Police eventually paid more than £700,000 in compensation to Stagg who endured accusations for years after his acquittal.

The IPCC said no police officer will face disciplinary action because they have all retired, and one senior detective has died. Criminal prosecutions were not considered.

Reacting to the report, Hanscombe said the IPCC shared his "sense of shock and disbelief" at the police blunders.

He said the fact that his partner's killer remained on the loose affected their son Alex's childhood.

Hanscombe said he learned Napper could have been caught earlier if relevant investigations had been conducted "competently" only a short time before Napper pleaded guilty in 2008.

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

Hanscombe's solicitor Kate Maynard said all those affected by the crimes were let down by poor leadership and bad decision-making by police, prosecutors and experts.

"The consequences of these failings could not have been worse," she said.

The IPCC report found that key police failings included:

• Officers did not act on a tipoff from Napper's mother in September or October 1989 that he had confessed to raping a woman on Plumstead Common

• In August 1992, police went to Napper's home after a tip that he looked like an efit of a rape suspect, for a string of attacks known as the Green Chain rapes. He failed to attend a police station to give a DNA sample and no further action took place

• The next month, police visited his house again after a second tipoff and left a letter asking him to attend a police station. He did not and no further action took place

• In October 1992 Napper was eliminated from the Green Chain inquiry on the deeply-flawed grounds he was over 6ft tall and the suspect may have been shorter, despite two people having named him as a suspect

• The same month he was arrested and a gun, bullets and knives found at his home. A London A-Z was found with locations linked to the Green Chain rapes marked. His DNA was not taken and no other inquiries took place, although he was jailed over the weapons

• In February 1993, two boys found a biscuit tin containing a gun buried close to open land. It had Napper's fingerprint on it, but no action was taken

The Metropolitan police said it welcomed the IPCC report, and that assistant commissioner Cressida Dick would be writing to Hanscombe and his son to apologise

The force said: "A private apology was made to Hanscombe in 2008 by assistant commissioner John Yates and the Met has no hesitation in repeating that apology today. AC Dick has also offered to meet Mr Hanscombe again for a face-to-face meeting.

"The Met has accepted that more could, and should have been done, and had more been done we could have been in a better position to have prevented very serious attacks by Napper.

"We have made it clear to other victims and the family and friends of those who Napper attacked that we deeply regret the fact he was able to carry out these dreadful acts.

"The report points to a number of failings between 1989 and 1992, which have previously been identified and acknowledged by the Met."


Vikram Dodd

The GuardianTramp

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