An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation has found “insufficient evidence” North Wales Police officers breached the discipline regulations of the time or committed criminal offences when interviewing and detaining a suspect relating to the murder of Janet Commins.
The body of the schoolgirl was found under a hedge in a playing field in Flint, she had been raped and strangled to death.
The IOPC says it investigated the conduct of police officers involved in the original murder investigation in 1976, and whether officers acted in accordance with ‘Judges’ Rules’, which set out expectations for the treatment of people in custody.
It also investigated how North Wales Police managed a 2006 review of the murder investigation and any subsequent enquiries, including decisions made in relation to an unidentified DNA profile found on Janet Commins’ trousers.
A statement published by the IOPC today, says: “At the time of the original murder investigation, Schedule 1 of the 1965 Police (Discipline) Regulations set out the disciplinary code and what constituted misconduct by a person serving with the police.
“Our investigation found insufficient evidence that the officers may have breached the Judges’ Rules to such an extent that it could amount to an offence of perverting the course of justice, misconduct in public officer or a breach of the discipline regulations.
“We also found that the officer involved in the subsequent review, who chaired an unsolved crimes meeting in 2010, had no case to answer and did not breach the modern standards of professional behaviour.”
Regional Director Derrick Campbell said: “Today, the treatment of people in police custody is regulated by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 which was introduced to help strike the right balance between the powers of the police and the rights of those in custody.
“PACE covers the provision of meals, rest breaks, legal advice and support. Prior to this, the expectations for the treatment of people in custody were outlined by a document known as Judges’ Rules.
“During our investigation, we were mindful that officers in the 1970s had considerably more leeway when questioning suspects. While the Judges’ Rules had no statutory basis, there was the risk that evidence could be excluded from a criminal trial if they were found to have breached them.
“We also recognised that interviewing officers and witnesses more than 40 years after events would inevitably mean there were gaps in recollection. However it was important for us to look at how this high-profile murder investigation was carried out for everyone concerned.”
The investigation began after North Wales Police raised concerns about the evidence obtained during the 1976 investigation during the re-investigation following the arrest of Stephen Hough in 2016.
The IOPC statement continues onto say: “The office looked at complaints made that officers had deprived Noel Jones of food, drink and rest and had pressured him into making a false confession.
“He stated that he was kept in a room for two days without anyone being notified of his arrest, and that he did not ask for a solicitor because he had not known that he was entitled to receive legal advice.
“However, the contemporaneous evidence indicates that Mr Jones was detained in custody for a total of 19 hours and signed his statement admitting the offence five hours after arriving at the station.
“The case was revisited in 2006 at an unsolved crimes meeting in 2010, as North Wales Police remained of the view that more than one person had been involved in the rape and murder due to the unidentified DNA profile on Janet’s clothing.
“A senior officer recommended the case was filed and re-visited in the event of a DNA match which we considered reasonable based on the information available at that time.
“Publication of the IPOC findings has awaited the conclusion of all legal proceedings relating to the case. Noel Jones’ conviction was quashed and he was wholly exonerated at the Court of Appeal in January 2019.”