The Independent Police Complaints Commission has published findings from their investigation into the police handling of incidents involving Michael Gilbert prior to his murder.
Michael was murdered in January 2009 and his body dismembered and disposed of in a lake in Bedfordshire. In April 2010 members of the Watt family were convicted of Michael's murder.
In July 2010 Michael's mother contacted the IPCC and alleged police failed to investigate three incidents involving her son; an assault in Luton in 2002 and abductions in Cambridgeshire in 2007 and in Lancashire in 2008. She believed that her son's murder could have been prevented if the police had intervened.
The IPCC investigation looked specifically at whether the three forces had conducted investigations into the incidents. A Serious Case Review, led by Professor Michael Preston Shoot, looked at the consequences of actions by the police and other agencies who had contact with Michael before his murder and makes recommendations based on their findings.
The IPCC investigation concluded that the police investigated each of the incidents and therefore none of the allegations were substantiated but that all three investigations were inadvertently hindered. The 2002 assault investigation was hampered after it was given inaccurate information from other public services; the Cambridgeshire abduction investigation was not told that Michael confirmed to a Bedfordshire officer that he had been taken against his will, having previously denied it; while in Lancashire officers wrote down the wrong mobile phone number for Michael.
IPCC Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne, said:
"This is a tragic case and one where the horrific manner of Michael's death must make it even harder for his loved ones to cope with their loss. I extend my sympathies to them.
"We looked at specific allegations that the police did not investigate three incidents involving Michael and the Watt family. We have found that on each occasion investigations had taken place, but were flawed due to misinformation, failures in communication and human error.”
In January 2002 a member of Michael's family called Bedfordshire Police to report that Michael had been cut with a knife and shot with a pellet gun. A statement was taken and three members of the Watt family were named as the offenders.
Several attempts were made by detective between February and May to progress the investigation, but calls were not returned and Michael failed to attend a meeting.
Checks were also made with Luton and Dunstable A&E who had no record of Michael attending when he said he had. The investigating detective was also told by social services that Michael had a history of making false allegations, which correlated with separate allegations Michael had made during interview that could not be substantiated.
However, it now known that Bedfordshire Police were passed inaccurate information in good faith by social services and the hospital. They were told by a social services that Michael had previously made malicious false allegations about staff. This information in fact related to another person by the same name. The allegations did not directly concern Luton Social Services.
The subsequent murder investigation also found that instead of making a note on records, the doctor who treated Michael sent a note to his GP outlining his attendance and treatment.
The IPCC investigation concluded that detectives understandably believed Michael had invented the causes of his injuries. This was based on incorrect information provided to the police from normally reliable sources, as well as what Michael and his mother were alleging.
On Friday 29 June 2007 Michael was with a friend in Cambridge when he was approached by James Watt. After a brief chat Michael got into a car with James. Concerned, his friend contacted the police several hours later.
An initial statement was taken from the friend that night and when Michael failed to return to his hostel the following morning enquiries were made to trace him. This included checking with hospitals and other hostels, and CCTV operators being alerted.
On 3 July Cambridgeshire Police received a request from Bedfordshire Police for the arrest of Michael on suspicion of rape. The same day officers were also told Michael he had left Luton because he had received death threats.
Checks were made with Bedfordshire Police, who had no records or information that substantiated the claim, but following further enquiries over the next 48 hours Michael was classified as a high risk missing person and then as a victim of abduction. Further addresses were searched and a press release appealing for information was issued.
On the 11 July Michael was found in the Arundel Shopping Centre, Luton (Bedfordshire) with James Watt after a routine stop by an officer.
He was arrested and taken to a police station where two Bedfordshire police officers interviewed him on suspicion of rape. A Bedfordshire officers then informed a Cambridgeshire officer that Michael had been arrested and that no claims of abduction had been made.
This resulted in Cambridgeshire Police closing their missing person and abduction enquiry.
After the interview had finished Michael told the Bedfordshire detective that he had been abducted but he would not cooperate with any investigation. Michael was released but the allegation of abduction was never passed on to Cambridgeshire Police.
The investigation concluded that in the initial stages of this incident Cambridgeshire Police conducted routine enquiries to trace Michael and could have classified him as a missing person sooner. However, it is impossible to say what impact this had on the likelihood of finding him, but it is clear that once informed of the rape arrest warrant and alleged death threats they intensified their efforts.
Had Bedfordshire Police informed Cambridgeshire of Michael's abduction allegation, it should have resulted in a crime being recorded and the potential gathering of intelligence about the Watt family. Given Michael's indication that he would not assist any investigation it is impossible to say what would have happened had the information been passed on.
On 28 January 2008 Michael was abducted from outside a job centre in Blackburn. He had been with his girlfriend's brother when a car pulled up and Michael was called over. Michael got in the car and was driven away. His friend told his mum what had happened when he got home an hour later. They subsequently received several text messages from Michael, one stating that he had gone to Bristol as his mum had died.
They also spoke with Michael who apologised for leaving.
On the 1 February the police were informed and they attended his girlfriend's house, where they took details of the incident and a contact number for Michael. An incorrect number was written by the officer and when it was dialled the man who answered told them he was not Michael and did not know him.
The officer noted a number ending 6255, rather than 8255.
The same day officers closed the call drawing the conclusion that Michael was avoiding contact with the informant's family since on each occasion that he had spoken or texted them he was very apologetic for leaving; this suggested to the police that he had left on his own accord.
The investigation concluded this was a reasonably held belief given the information the officers and that it was not possible to say whether the number was incorrectly provided to the officer or written down.
© Independent Police Complaints Commission All Rights Reserved