Police apology after damning report

18 June 2010, 06:42 | Updated: 18 June 2010, 07:18

Warren Blackwell has labelled an apology from Northamptonshire Police as "too little, too late" after the force was heavily criticised in a report by the police watchdog.

Mr Blackwell was jailed in 1999 for a sex attack outside a social club and spent three years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.  His conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2006 after new evidence undermined the credibility of the complainant.

A report by police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) attacked Northamptonshire Police for its handling of the case. It unveiled a catalogue of errors made by officers which contributed to the miscarriage of justice.

Information the force failed to disclose included concerns expressed by an officer from another force to a detective about the alleged victim's reliability, saying previously she had seemed to "enjoy police attention."

Notes taken by the Northamptonshire detective referred to her as "unreliable'' and "unstable'', but there was no evidence to show this information was ever passed to senior officers or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

While Mr Blackwell was in prison, a detective failed to make senior officers and the CPS aware of more information about false complaints by the same woman with striking similarities to Mr Blackwell's case. There were also a large number of serious discrepancies in her accounts which seemed not to have been challenged by detectives.

The IPCC also turned its fire on the CPS, accusing it of failing to disclose the woman's medical history and a previous conviction to the defence.

Too little, too late:

Northamptonshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Derek Talbot apologised to Mr Blackwell in person earlier this week. But the 40-year-old, from Woodford Halse, Daventry, Northants, said: "It's too little, too late. At the end of the day it was just a token gesture.  Life goes on. I almost stepped back into work straight away, you've got to get on with these things.

"It's been frustrating the length of time it has taken to draw a line under it and I don't think I'm quite there yet.''

He said the report was "damning'' and that he was taking legal advice on whether or not to bring a damages claim against the force.

IPCC Commissioner Amerdeep Somal said: "I am dismayed that Northamptonshire Police has taken so long to issue an apology to Mr Blackwell that he has patently deserved.  On top of weaknesses in the original police investigation, a detective failed to disclose to senior officers, the CPS or the defence, crucial information about the credibility of the complainant - all factors which contributed to the wrongful conviction.''

Commissioner Somal also expressed her "deep dissatisfaction'' with the "unacceptable'' length of time the force had taken to resolve disciplinary matters.

The IPCC probe found failings by three officers who had a case to answer on misconduct grounds but the CPS proposed no criminal action should be taken, the IPCC said. It criticised the force for taking more than a year to finalise an apology and
resolve these disciplinary matters - by which point one officer had already retired.

Two others, a detective chief inspector and a detective sergeant, will now receive management words of advice. A spokesman said the watchdog handed its report to the force in March 2009. Mr Blackwell said the fact that one officer had "escaped'' disciplinary proceedings by retiring was "disgusting''.  "He is now untouchable,'' he said.

Mr Talbot said: ``Northamptonshire Police acknowledges and regrets that some aspects of the investigation and handling of information, which emerged after Mr Blackwell's conviction in 1999, fell well below the required standard.''

The complainant said she was attacked in the early hours of January 1 1999 after leaving a New Year's Eve party at a social club. Mr Blackwell was convicted in October 1999 at Northampton Crown Court.

In March 2002, the Court of Appeal denied him leave to appeal and increased his sentence from three to five years.

In June 2004, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice, asked Northamptonshire Police to assist in reviewing the case and the conviction was subsequently referred back.

The IPCC launched its own investigation three years later.

Mr Blackwell spent three years and four months in jail.