Ashleigh Hall's mother says that if the police had done their jobs properly her daughter would still be alive today. David Roberts reports.
THE mother of murdered teenager Ashleigh Hall said her daughter would still be alive if the region’s police forces had done their jobs properly.
Andrea Hall said she was considering legal action after a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC) did not attach any blame to the way in which Durham, North Yorkshire and Cleveland Police tracked the movements of convicted sex offender Peter Chapman.
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However, the IPPC report highlighted a number of serious errors in the monitoring of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system by the three forces.
The ANPR uses cameras that read vehicle numberplates.
Despite an alert for Chapman’s arrest being put out by Merseyside Police, it took 16 hits on the ANPR system before the 33-year-old was pulled over by officers.
By that time, it was too late for 17-year-old Ashleigh, from Darlington.
Chapman had already befriended the trainee nursery nurse by posing as a 19-yearold on the social networking site Facebook.
After picking her up in his car, he raped and murdered her and left her body in a layby on the outskirts of Sedgefield, County Durham.
Chapman was wanted by Merseyside Police in relation to charges of arson, theft and breaching the terms of his sex offender’s registration, and an alert was distributed to police nationwide.
His vehicle was first spotted on the ANPR system in the Cleveland force’s area on October 23, 2009.
There were then an estimated nine further occasions when the blue Ford Mondeo was seen, before he killed Ashleigh some time on the evening of October 25 Some of the damning findings of the IPPC report are:
• Despite an alert activating at the Durham Police control room when Chapman’s vehicle entered the force area, it was not spotted by staff because they were not logged onto the ANPR system;
• The ANPR system at Durham was unreliable and was often not working for days at a time, and regularly did not work;
• North Yorkshire Police do not monitor their police cameras 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
• There are no policies in relation to ANPR at North Yorkshire Police;
• No records were made at Cleveland Police about why officers were not dispatched to an ANPR hit.
Last night, Ms Hall said: “I feel completely fobbed off.
“As I am reading it, it reads like they are all in the wrong, but when they come to the conclusion at the end, no one is at fault.
“Two of the times, Ashleigh would have been in the car with him on the 25th, and if they had done their job properly, she would still be alive.”
In March last year, Chapman pleaded guilty to Ashleigh’s murder and was jailed for a minimum of 35 years.
Following the conclusion of the court case, it emerged that he had a series of convictions for sex offences.
He was on the Sex Offender’s Register and had only recently been downgraded from a high to a medium risk category.
Despite that, he had been missing from his registered address in Merseyside for nine months before a nationwide alert was put out for his arrest.
A separate IPPC report is investigating why it took so long for Merseyside Police to put out the alert.
That report is expected in the next few weeks, and Ms Hall has said she has been told that one of the reasons is that a trainee policewoman with a limited amount of experience was put in charge of monitoring Chapman.
The report into the use of ANPR in the North-East has made a number of recommendations.
The report said: “Force inconsistencies, differing priorities and differing levels of importance placed on the ANPR system by each force impacts significantly on the effectiveness of ANPR within each force area.”
It said all police forces should have ANPR policies.
It has also recommended that forces should find a way of prioritising the information they receive on ANPR and that all the data should be kept as up-to-date as possible.
However, Ms Hall said someone should shoulder the responsibility for the mistakes made in monitoring Chapman.
She has been speaking to a solicitor about taking legal action, and said: “It is not about money – I am not interested in money.
“I am just very disappointed, I feel very let down. No one has said they are sorry or anything like that.
“They say they have learnt lessons, but what lessons have I learnt? The only thing I have learnt is having to live without my daughter.
“They’re saying that the only person to blame is Peter Chapman.
“But if they had done their job like they were supposed to, she would be here.
“If they are not going to do it, then why bother having them.”
The IPPC report acknowledged that Cleveland Police responded to nine of the 12 hits that happened in the force area and finally arrested him on October 26, 2009.
It said the forces were now addressing the issues raised in the report.
Last night, Cleveland and North Yorkshire police said that because the report had not been officially published, it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage.
A spokeswoman for Durham Police said: “We are aware of this report and will be considering it in due course.”
A spokesman for the IPPC said: “We have met with Ms Hall and shared the findings from our investigation into how Durham Constabulary, Cleveland Police and North Yorkshire Police dealt with intelligence from the ANPR system.
The meeting was private.
“However, we will publish the findings from our investigation in due course once our second investigation into how Merseyside Police monitored Chapman as part of the requirements of the Sex Offender’s Register is completed.”
The circumstances surrounding Ashleigh’s murder led to The Northern Echo setting up the Safety Net campaign.
The campaign successfully called for internet safety to be a mandatory part of the National Curriculum and also for links to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to be available on Facebook.