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Home Office moots 'Precrime' agency for future serial killers

But wacko ideas don't fix dud IT systems

Look at each of these individually, consider the likely costs and benefits of available courses of action, and ask yourself, what would you have done? There is no obvious gross incompetence or negligence. There are various human errors, but systems need to be able to cater for and trap human errors - here, with little or no safety net, the errors simply added a little more to the chances of Huntley being given a clean bill of health.

In none of the cases of alleged child sex would the children involved or their parents press charges, while none of the rape allegations could be made to stick. Effectively, despite regular police attention over a protracted period, the nearest thing to a record Huntley had was the burglary charge. But the information to produce something more meaningful did exist, as illustrated by an intelligence report that was filed, finally, by one PC Harding in 1999.

Huntley, said the report, had come to the attention of Grimsby CID in four separate rape enquiries and one indecent assault. "Huntley on all these occasions has targeted women that he knew or has befriended, usually in nightclubs..." The report explains that Huntley admits to sex with consent, and that he "seems to choose women who do not make ideal witnesses/complainants", hence the lack of convictions. But: "It is clear that Huntley is a serial sex attacker and is at liberty to continue his activities..."

PC Harding's report makes it clear that it was possible for police to produce a coherent and accurate (albeit overly-conclusive regarding guilt) assessment of Huntley, but this was the one and only intelligence report (there's a form, form 839) filed on Huntley, despite there having been justification for these earlier in the series of contacts.

Were the officers involved wrong in failing to complete them? Possibly, but filing intelligence reports for every last no-hope, minor, loser of a case (as most of these must have seemed) does not seem a sensible approach. As with social services, most of the contacts were dealt with case-by-case - there was no reference to a big picture, and (PC Harding's report aside), no big picture was recorded. As with social services, Humberside police was failing to share information with itself.

The systems available to the officers involved could almost be said to exhibit this lack of sharing as a design feature, and not for reasons of data protection. The relevant systems here were the PNC; Humberside's core intelligence system, CIS Nominals; CIS Crime, which contained details of reported, recorded, detected and 'disposed of' crimes; the Humberside Child Protection Database (CPD) and the ICJS, which creates custody records and produces documents concerning cautions, charges and bail. Huntley would at various points have been on some of these, but not necessarily helpfully, and not necessarily at the times when it would have been most helpful.

Huntley would not have shown up on the PNC because with the exception of the burglary offence he was never charged. He was interviewed under caution in 1995, but not formally cautioned. Formal cautions are now entered on the PNC, but they were not at the time of this particular interview, so he would not have acquired a PNC entry if a caution had been given. A record of the burglary "lie on file" did exist on the PNC and therefore in theory could have been found by the Cambridgeshire check. It wasn't, but even if it had been, it would simply have revealed a possible case of petty dishonesty five years previously.

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