The Detective’s Dilemma
When 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan went missing, Detective Steve Fulcher arrested a suspect who offered to lead him to her body. The suspect then asked, ‘Do you want another one?’ What would you have done?
22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan was reported missing after a night out with friends. Detective Inspector Steve Fulcher was the lead investigator. CCTV cameras showed her getting into an unidentified vehicle and then she was gone.
The car stopped next to Sian, and a minute and four seconds later, it drove off and she was in it. But it didn’t make sense. Sian didn’t live that far away. More CCTV footage showed it was a taxi. The driver: Christopher John Halliwell.
Halliwell had a police record and looked like a good suspect. Fulcher made the decision to place him under covert surveillance, hoping he still had Sian and he could lead them to her. Teams of police followed him for several days.
Fulcher had to navigate the minefield of an active investigation and the intense media interest. The minute police saw Halliwell buy an overdose quantity of pills, the game was effectively over. Halliwell was arrested.
Halliwell said: ‘Have you got a car? We’ll go.’ Instead of taking him to the police station with access to a lawyer, Fulcher agreed. Sian could still be alive. Fulcher used an exception to the rule for urgent interviews where a life is at stake.
Followed by a huge surveillance team, Halliwell led Fulcher to the location where he had taken Sian. He had killed her, he told Fulcher. Fulcher would have taken Halliwell in, but then the killer said: ‘Do you want another one?’
Fulcher couldn’t ignore a potential confession from a self-confessed killer. After Halliwell was taken to the police station, Fulcher was hailed a hero. In court though, if Fulcher had broken the rules, could Halliwell’s confessions be inadmissible?
It was argued that while Fulcher could claim the ‘urgent interview’ provisions for Sian, when Halliwell suggested there could be a second victim, Fulcher should have ignored a possible confession and taken Halliwell back to the police station.
With the controversy around Fulcher’s actions on the night of the confession, his career was soon in tatters and he faced disciplinary hearings about his conduct on the night he arrested Chris Halliwell.
It took five years for Halliwell’s trials to finish. By then, Steve Fulcher had left the police force, leaving behind the biggest question of all: When a killer confesses, do you listen?