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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

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Guy Smith | 16:15 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Rachel Nickell. Getty ImagesThe Met claims it's apologised. The partner of Rachel Nickell, who was killed on Wimbledon Common in July 1992, strongly disagrees.

That was the primary reason Andre Hanscombe made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in November, last year.

Today the IPCC published a scathing report on how the Metropolitan Police investigated a series of rapes and three murders.

In sum, the police watchdog revealed a "catalogue of bad decisions and errors".

Firstly, that the Met had failed to "sufficiently investigate" after the mother of Rachel's killer Robert Napper called police to report that he had confessed to a rape on Plumstead Common in 1989.

Secondly and "inconceivably", detectives had eliminated Napper from enquiries into an earlier series of rapes because he was over 6ft tall.

IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: "Without these errors, Robert Napper could have been off the streets before he killed Rachel Nickell and the Bissets (Samantha and Jazmine), and before numerous women suffered violent sexual attacks at his hands."

She added that Rachel's murder remained one of the most shocking cases this country has ever seen. Rachel was stabbed 49 times in front of her two year old son Alex.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates publicly apologised in 2008 to Colin Stagg, who was relentlessly and wrongly pursued by detectives as the prime suspect. He's subsequently received substantial compensation for his ordeal.

The IPCC reports "nobody at the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) has ever stood up in public and offered an apology" to the other people whose lives were affected.

The IPCC has called on the Met to issue an unreserved apology.

I've repeatedly phoned the Met to invite them on our main TV news programme tonight at 6.30pm. Unfortunately, they've declined the offer without giving any indication why the audience will not be seeing or hearing from a senior officer after such criticism.

However, they have issued a written statement.

"A private apology was made to Mr Hanscombe in 2008", it reads. "And the MPS has no hesitation in repeating that apology today. Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick has also offered to meet Mr Hanscombe again for a face-toface meeting."

The statement continues with the promise that a senior officer will be writing to Rachel's partner and son to "reiterate" how sorry they are.

It never fails to surprise me when an organisation rejects the opportunity to explain to broadcast media where things have gone wrong and how they have subsequently improved their investigative processes.

Some media strategists would argue that to hear from someone clearly stating a sincere and open public apology goes a long way in limiting the damage to an organisation's reputation.

A footnote to this is: no police officer will face disciplinary action because they have all retired and one key senior detecitive has died.


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