Sian O'Callaghan's murder by Christopher Halliwell and the true events that inspired ITV's A Confession

2 September 2019, 21:00 | Updated: 2 September 2019, 21:01

The real story behind Sian O'Callaghan's murder
The real story behind Sian O'Callaghan's murder. Picture: ITV

As 'A Confession' airs on ITV, we look at the true story behind the murder of Sian O’Callaghan and what happened to police officer Detective Steve Fulcher.

'A Confession' is the latest ITV drama to hit our screens and is based on the real-life hunt for 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan who went missing in 2011 after a night out in Swindon.

The six-part series stars Martin Freeman as Detective Steve Fulcher, whose investigation into the crime leads to extraordinary circumstances.

Here’s the true story behind the drama...

What happened to Sian O'Callaghan?

On Saturday 19th March 2011, Sian O’Callaghan, 22, left Swindon nightclub Suju’s with her friends to walk back to the home she shared with boyfriend Kevin Reape.

But when she never returned and failed to answer any calls or texts from her frantic family the next morning, Kevin called the police to report her as missing at 9:45am.

Sian O'Callaghan went missing in 2011
Sian O'Callaghan went missing in 2011. Picture: Family handout

Read More: When does A Confession start on ITV, who's in the cast and what is it about?

Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher was put on the case and his team scoured CCTV in the area to find her leaving the nightclub at 2.52am.

When tracking her mobile phone, Fulcher’s team discovered the device had been in the Savernake Forest area at 3:24am, which is roughly 12 miles away.

On Tuesday 22nd March, around 400 members of the public were allowed to help the police search the forest, but this was halted the next day when new evidence came to light.

400 members of the public helped to search Savernake Forest
400 members of the public helped to search Savernake Forest. Picture: PA Images

After checking more CCTV in the area, the police spotted a green Toyota Avensis taxi pulling up next to Sian when she was walking home, which they discovered was driven by dad-of-three Christopher Halliwell.

During surveillance of the 47-year-old, he was spotted buying a large amount of painkillers.

Fearing he was planning to overdose, the police were forced to arrest him for the kidnap (not murder) of Sian on 24 March, and they immediately seized the Toyota Avensis he was driving.

Later the same day, Sian’s body was found in a shallow grave near Uffington, Oxfordshire, after being stabbed in the head and strangled. Two days later Halliwell was charged with murder.

He initially pleaded not guilty, but on 19 October 2012 at Bristol Crown Court, he changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

Christopher Halliwell was sentenced to life in prison
Christopher Halliwell was sentenced to life in prison. Picture: Wiltshire Police

What happened to Becky Godden-Edwards?

Becky Godden-Edwards was a drug addict and sex worker who went missing some years before in 2002 and 2003.

Her mother Karen Edwards spent years hoping she’d come home, but after his arrest, Halliwell made another shock confession.

As well as revealing the location of Sian’s body, he led Fulcher to a second body at a field in Gloucestershire which turned out to be Becky's.

While Halliwell was charged with Sian’s murder in 2012, he wasn’t charged with the murder of Becky as judge, Mrs Justice Cox, ruled at the time that his confession was inadmissible in court.

However, in 2016, judge Sir John Griffith Williams decided that evidence for the crime should be heard in court as part of the case.

After a separate murder trial, a jury found Christopher Halliwell guilty of the murder of Becky Godden-Edwards and he was sentenced to another life sentence.

How did Detective Steve Fulcher break the rules?

ITV drama ‘A Confession’ focuses on Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher whose career was impacted dramatically by this case.

He was accused of breaking police protocol when he made an unusual decision after arresting Halliwell.

Instead of bringing the suspect to Gablecross police station in Swindon so he could ask for a solicitor, Fulcher ordered him to be taken to a nearby fort called Barbury Castle.

Still hoping to find Sian alive, Fulcher grilled Halliwell for hours at Barbury Castle where they shared cigarettes.

After forming a connection with the killer, Halliwell finally confessed to Sian’s murder, before then confessing to the murder of Becky. He then led the police to the bodies of both women.

Steve Fulcher spoke to the media outside Wiltshire Police station in 2011
Steve Fulcher spoke to the media outside Wiltshire Police station in 2011. Picture: PA Images

Fulcher was later accused of breaking guidelines set out by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) as he failed to caution Halliwell and denied him access to a solicitor.

As a result, judge Mrs Justice Cox ruled Halliwell’s confessions were inadmissible in court.

This meant that he could not be tried for the murder of Becky Godden-Edwards because there was not enough evidence, however he was convicted of Sian’s murder as the case was strong enough without the confession.

Fulcher’s career was ultimately destroyed by this, and in January 2014 he was found guilty of “gross misconduct” for breaches of PACE and for ignoring force orders.

In May 2014, the former detective resigned from Wiltshire Police.