Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Cambridgeshire Police handling of Bernadette Walker missing person investigation
Following an eight-month investigation, we concluded that a Cambridgeshire Constabulary officer had no case to answer for misconduct in relation to his role in a missing person investigation concerning a Peterborough teenager.
We have identified a number of potential areas of learning for the force and are working with them with a view to having them implemented to ensure lessons are learnt from these tragic events.
We began our investigation in October 2020 after the force referred the conduct of the officer to the IOPC.
On 21 July 2020, 17-year-old Bernadette Walker was reported missing by her mother and the force began a missing person investigation which was initially assessed as medium risk.
Allegations that the missing teenager had been sexually abused were also disclosed to the police by her mother in the days following the missing person report.
IOPC investigators focused on the period from 21 July 2020 to 9 September 2020 to examine whether Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s policies and procedures were adhered to regarding the management and progression of the missing person investigation, the appropriateness of the risk level of the investigation, and the handling of the sexual abuse allegation.
We established the investigation remained at medium risk for seven weeks and was reviewed by the subject officer seven times. After this time, the investigation was re-graded as high risk by another officer. Two days later, a homicide investigation began into Bernadette’s disappearance, with her parents treated as suspects.
IOPC investigators conducted witness interviews with four Cambridgeshire Constabulary officers and a member of police staff. We obtained a statement under misconduct caution from the subject officer, examined nearly 600 entries on the missing person report and obtained a number of other documents generated by the police and other agencies in connection with the missing person investigation.
Regional Director Graham Beesley yesterday said:
"This is a tragic case and my thoughts and sympathies are with all those who loved Bernadette Walker and will miss her.
"We found the officer’s performance was satisfactory in that they identified essential lines of enquiry, attempted to ensure actions were progressed and carried out timely reviews of the missing persons investigation.
"The IOPC and Cambridgeshire Constabulary agreed that no officer or staff member whose actions were considered in the IOPC investigation had a case to answer for misconduct.
"We understand Cambridgeshire Constabulary has implemented a number of changes in the wake of this tragic incident and, in response to our investigation, has identified practice requiring improvement for four officers who had some involvement in the missing person investigation. They will now take part in the reflective practice review process to provide an opportunity for them to learn and develop in this specific area of policing.
"We are consulting with Cambridgeshire Constabulary about a number of recommendations arising from our investigation, in the area of the supervision of missing person investigations, improved training for frontline officers about missing person investigations, and guidance for officers on how to handle sexual abuse allegations which come to light in the course of a missing person investigation."
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