After Soham: taking liberties- By Jenny Bristow

June 25, 2004

The Bichard Inquiry into the Soham murders has raised many important issues. The least of these, unfortunately, is the extraordinary row between David Westwood, the chief constable of Humberside Police, and home secretary David Blunkett, which has dominated the coverage. Sir Michael Bichard’s damning criticisms of the role played by Humberside Police in failing to identify Soham murderer Ian Huntley as a potential threat to children have led to calls for Westwood’s head to roll; Westwood has refused to resign, claiming that he wants to stay on to implement the reforms proposed by Bichard. Blunkett has invoked his powers to order Westwood’s suspension, which in turn has led to concerns that one chief constable is being made scapegoat for a catalogue of failings across several local police forces, social services and vetting schemes. Of course, there is a question about whether the head of one police force in the north of England can genuinely be held responsible for the cold-blooded murder of two schoolgirls in Cambridgeshire. Far more important, however, is the broad consensus that has greeted the rest of the Bichard Report – which, in its swingeing attacks on the most basic principles of criminal justice, takes the maxim ‘hard cases make bad law’ to a whole new level.

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