When he was Home Secretary, David Blunkett discovered how disastrous the benefit of the doubt could be. Had Alistair McAlpine been Home Secretary at the time, what would he have done?
What follows is a disturbing tale of how ignoring circumstancial evidence and doubtful acquittal may have led to the deaths of two little girls, Holly Marie Wells and Jessica Aimee Chapman. They were murdered in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire on 4 August 2002. The girls passed the home of local school caretaker Ian Kevin Huntley, who called them into his house and then murdered them. In December 2003 he was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, with the High Court later setting a minimum term of 40 years.
After Huntley was convicted, it was revealed that he had been investigated in the past for sexual offences, but had still been allowed to work at Soham School – as none of these investigations had resulted in a conviction.
This much many British citizens already know. But what most of them will not know is how potentially fuzzy and misleading the phrase ‘had still been allowed to’ actually is. And to learn more about this, we have to go back to a past involving Huntley…..and a local Labour Party bigwig on Humberside.
The key figure in this case is a former social worker and Labour Councillor on Humberside called Colin Inglis (left). When a 29 year old care home social worker in the 1980s, Inglis was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy. It never came to anything, but then in 1997, Inglis’s physical advances towards a teenage boy in the Spring Cottage care home were the subject of a further investigation. No charges were preferred.
Then on 4th December 2005, he was charged on 14 counts of indecent assault in relation to allegations of child abuse from his social worker period. And the trial was to say the least controversial – not least because, by now, Colin Inglis had managed to get himself elected as a Labour Councillor…having along the way somehow become the Chairman of Humberside police authority.
Partway through the trial, Inglis was cleared of eight of the charges on the orders of the judge.
At the end of an epic trial, the jury cleared him of a further charge in little more than two hours. But it took considerably longer for them to arrive at a verdict – a majority verdict – on the five other charges. He was found Not Guilty. These five charges related to a man now 37 years old and a financial adviser. But the jury was not told that the complainant was among a number of other people who had made allegations against Inglis at the time.
I have no doubt that the merry band on the McAlpinite Committee investigating Innuendoist Activities would dismiss all this as scare-mongering smear tactics upon Colin Inglis. And they might have a case, were it not for two vital facts: first, Inglis had a close relationship with the top cop involved in the Soham murders, David Westwood. Second, Huntley had an abuse record as long as your arm that coincided with Inglis’s time in the same social worker/police authority where Huntley lived.
In August 1995, when Huntley was 21 years old, a joint investigation was launched by police and social services in Grimsby, after a 15-year-old girl admitted that she had been having sex with Huntley. Police did not pursue the case against Huntley in accordance with the girl’s wishes. But in March 1996, Huntley was once again investigated over allegations of having sex with an underage girl. Again he was not charged.
A month later, Huntley was investigated yet again over allegations of underage sex, but this allegation too did not result in a charge. The same outcome occurred the following month when he was investigated over allegations of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
In April 1998, Huntley was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman. He admitted having sex with the woman but claimed it was consensual. The police decided not to charge Huntley.
In July 1998, Huntley was investigated by the police on allegations that he indecently assaulted an 11-year-old girl in September 1997. However, he was never charged, though in April 2007 he confessed that he attacked the girl. He was investigated over allegations of rape on a 17-year-old woman in February 1999, but no charges were made against him.
Now in law, of course, this means nothing more than suspicion. But when a third factor emerged later, the case went beyond any suggestion of mere suspicion: it became a catalogue of at best wilful stupidity by the authorities.
The final astonishing episode in this tale occurred when the Home Secretary during the time of the Soham murders, David Blunkett, received a full report on the Enquiry about what went wrong in relation to the school’s seemingly mad decision to employ psychopath Ian Huntley. We are now in 2004 – nearly two years after the tragic deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. On reading the report documentation, Mr Blunkett immediately demanded the resignation of a top cop related to the case, David Westwood. Here’s why: the Enquiry criticised his Humberside Police force for deleting information relating to previous allegations against Huntley.
As if this isn’t bad enough – that is, the placement of former Humberside Police Authority Chairman Colin Inglis firmly in a frame of potential conspiracy to pervert justice – Mr Inglis and his colleagues now effectively told the Home Secretary to shove his request for Westwood’s dismissal. Furious, Blunkett announced that he would take legal action if Humberside Police Authority didn’t carry out his request to suspend him. Amazingly, the police authority had the brass neck to yet again ask David Blunkett ‘to reconsider his decision to order the suspension of David Westwood’.
Westwood had to go, and did. But this particular aspect of the case is creepy for one overriding reason: here we have a man with a history of sex abuse allegations and half-hearted acquittals to his name openly defying a Home Secretary insisting on the departure of a police associate whose force had conspired to erase crucial evidence about the past of a man who, soon afterwards, became one of the most infamous child-killers in British history.
It is creepy, I would contend, because clearly Colin Inglis had no fear at all of potential retribution.
In the aftermath of these murky circumstances, it has been the assumption of many people associated with this case that Huntley’s girlfriend Maxine Carr was the key to him going unsuspected. Her failure to expose Huntley’s lies in the early stages of the investigation (and donation of a false alibi) meant that police initially eliminated Huntley as a suspect. But as we can see, what’s emerged since – following more thorough piecing together of the facts over many years – is that without help of a different kind beforehand, Huntley would never have been let near Soham school in the first place. And had that happened, Holly and Jessica would almost certainly still be alive.
Circumstancial or not, the nature of this case has all the classic hallmarks of crony assistance in gaining employment, and then cover-up afterwards. The weakness of the vetting system which allowed Huntley to get a caretaker’s job at a school – despite four separate complaints about him reaching social services – was shown up when Humberside Police (where all the alleged offences had taken place) stated that they believed that it was unlawful under the Data Protection Act to hold data regarding allegations which did not lead to a conviction. The Chairman of the police authority at this time was…..Colin Inglis.
That interpretation was and is total bollocks. It was roundly contradicted by other police forces who thought it ‘too strict an interpretation of the Act’. It feels to me, eleven years on, like a false passport allowing Ian Huntley to go about his ghastly work.
Neither I nor anyone else remote to events is in a position to make an unqualified accusation here. But some very, very disturbing questions remain. Not only that, the trail is just warm enough in 2012 – with enough people still alive – to ascertain the value or otherwise of these queries..if the Establishment flesh is willing. They are:
1. How did Inglis (with dark grey clouds over him about sex abuse) gain election to the post of Chairman of the Humberside Police Authority…or indeed any other position in public life?
2. Did Inglis have any dealings with Huntley during his social worker or CPA terms? If so, what were they?
3. How did Huntley evade capture and incarceration as an obvious sex-pest during the overlap period between his offences and the CPA rule of Inglis?
4. Why didn’t David Blunkett – a man familiar with Yorkshire Labour politics – look more thoroughly into the uniquely negative response of Inglis to his demand for Westwood’s head?
5. What exactly was the relationship between David Westwood and Colin Inglis, and why was the latter so desperate for the police constable to remain in place?
6. How on earth did the Labour Party then allow Colin Inglis to go on to become Lord Mayor of Hull? (On on 1 May 2008, he topped the poll in the Myton Ward of Hull to return to the Council, and in 201o he became Lord Mayor of the City.)
But the most fishy bit of this tale of a Hull infamous for its smell of piscean food processing came in this very year, 2012. For the ever-rhinoceros-skinned Colin Inglis tried to become one of the newly invented PCCs for Humberside.
However, on March 14th he was dumped from the Labour ticket as a prospective police and crime commissioner. Incredibly, a ‘source close to Inglis’ told the local media, “Colin will be bitterly disappointed by this. It is a snub, and it seems very strange that a man of his experience within the politics of policing hasn’t been put on the longlist.”
Perhaps we should look into the strange mentality of the source who thought rejecting a dubious bloke like Inglis for the PCC job was strange. Perhaps we should look into why Labour Big Beast John Prescott (who got the nomination) was then humiliatingly defeated in the ensuing contest. But most of all, we should definitely look very closely indeed at why the local Labour mafia flatly refused to comment on why it had firmly rejected the application of Colin Inglis at the longlist stage.
We are now at the lessons-drawing conclusions stage of this piece.
I fully agree with Lord McAlpine that baseless accusation and wild speculation in the media are things to be discouraged. However, where I differ from the pools-winning Peer is on the question of where informed hypotheses end and innuendos begin. You see, I have no desire to convict on the basis of hearsay and gossip…even though the BBC has effectively been convicted on the basis of threatened rather than actual litigation. No, what I would like is for those accompanied by very thick circumstancially paedophiliac clouds to be denied access to care system and educational institutions. Not sent to prison: just barred from access to children’s front or back bottoms and little willies.
The problem as I see it is this. As the case history above suggests very strongly, there is a discouraging silence among the police, local politicians, social workers and higher authorities when it comes to (a) discovering the background of applicants for positions allowing child access and (b) working out why and how – time and again – an odd alliance between those authorities seems to at best obfuscate or at worst eradicate WTF happened.
Now, were the information playing-field level, it would be a matter of simple analysis to establish these facts, and thus the use of innuendo, smear and pernicious suggestion could be banned from these islands. But the data pitch is about as level as the north face of the Eiger. So given the uncertain nature of this data-collection context, it seems to me a bit of a no-brainer that – for the purposes of judging an individual’s suitability for employment – billowing clouds of throat-assaulting smoke should be accepted as evidence of fire.
It is of course vital to retain a scrupulous focus on complete fairness in serious legal cases: ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a fundamental tenet of any enlightened judicial system. But what those who so blindly support a blanket ban on all informed speculation forget is that, in many ways, sexual abuse of a child is almost the perfect crime when it comes to evading justice.
There are rarely any witnesses. The victims are often seen as fanciful…a perception hardened by spread of the pernicious psychiatric theory of ‘false memory syndrome’. It is an adult’s word against an immature child’s. Inventing a case for childish vengeance is not that dificult. As we saw in the case of Huntley, the police are wary of it as an area of crime. The kids themselves are traumatised and convinced they’ve been punished: in many cases, they have no grounds for judging the degree of abnormality involved, but they do in turn have a natural desire not to tell parents if they feel they have been bad in some way.
And of course last but not least, the defendant’s previous behaviour record is inadmissable as evidence.
Many McAlpinites would still regard the speculation as unsafe. But I can guarantee to all of them that not a single sane parent in Britain would object to overwhelming doubts being applied negatively to access vetting.
In short, as the law is often a complete ambulance-chasing ass, it is vitally important for procedures outside the Courts to err on the highly conservative side of decision-making in this regard. Particularly given the alleged proclivities of some Conservatives. And without wishing to labour the point vis-a-vis balance, especially give the quirky sexual desires of some Labour local politicians.
As I have said from Day One of this utterly gross episode in British socio-political history, Jimmy Savile got away with being a serially destructive pervert because far too many people either looked the other way, or gave him the benefit of the doubt. I have never tried to suggest that Lord McAlpine having a sexually deranged second-cousin is in any way a guide to Alistair’s own carnal preferences. But I would respectfully suggest that one man’s reputation versus the deaths of two young children is something of a no-brainer.