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High-level policing failures cited in report into missing B.C. women

Robert William Pickton, 52, shown here in a picture taken from TV.

Globe files/Globe files

A scathing independent review of the RCMP and Vancouver police investigations related to missing women from the Downtown Eastside has pinpointed several failures of senior management in both organizations to explain why Robert Pickton was not stopped before killing several women from 1997 to 2002.

"In my opinion, the RCMP and VPD failed to provide leadership and resources to the missing women and Pickton investigations," concluded Jennifer Evans, a deputy chief of Peel Regional Police who was hired as an external adviser to the Pickton inquiry in British Columbia.

The lines of communication between the RCMP and Vancouver police were non-existent at a crucial point in the investigation, and police work lacked the required thoroughness and organization, Deputy Chief Evans wrote in a report obtained by CTV News. The report is to be presented to the inquiry when hearings resume on Monday.

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Deputy Chief Evans concluded that mistakes were made. "They were not made out of malice, but rather resulted from a lack of leadership and commitment," she wrote. "Someone in authority, either in the RCMP or the VPD, needed to champion a co-ordinated effort to these investigations. This should have involved a multi-jurisdictional approach in the investigation of the missing women from the Downtown Eastside and of Pickton as a suspect."

The severity and totality of the tragedy went unrecognized by senior management of both the VPD and the RCMP because neither organization accepted the crisis as its responsibility, Deputy Chief Evans wrote. "Certain officers failed to take ownership and ensure the proper resources were dedicated to the problem."

Deputy Chief Evans concluded that the decision on whether to put officers on the investigation was affected by the assumption that a crime had not occurred if there was no evidence and no bodies. "The serial killer theory was a valid consideration that should have at least been considered from the outset," Deputy Chief Evans stated.

She also concluded that the police response would have been quicker and more co-ordinated if one police agency had jurisdiction over Coquitlam, where Mr. Pickton's farm was, and the Downtown Eastside. It was easy for Coquitlam RCMP to investigate other violent crimes they felt had priority, Deputy Chief Evans wrote. Also, the Vancouver force pursued leads but did not investigate Mr. Pickton because it deferred to the RCMP, Deputy Chief Evans stated.

Deputy Chief Evans had extremely harsh words for Vancouver police management. "In my opinion, the leadership and oversight displayed by members of the VPD senior management during the initial investigation into the missing women was inexcusable," she wrote, adding that there was no leadership by senior management within the missing persons' unit.

The RCMP fell down by not pressing on when faced with a deceptive interview by Lynn Ellingsen, who others claimed had seen Mr. Pickton with a dead woman, Deputy Chief Evans stated. Ms. Ellingsen's denial should not have stopped the investigation, it should have motivated investigators to prove the veracity of their information by showing she was lying.

Deputy Chief Evans identified several officers who recognized something suspicious was going on. Vancouver Police Constable Dave Dickson on Aug. 27, 1998, submitted "a compelling report" that suggested missing women had become victims of foul play and serious action should be initiated, she wrote. Constable Dickson was never involved in the investigation of Mr. Pickton.

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A clerk at the Vancouver police station who took reports of missing persons, Sandy Cameron, raised concerns in 1998 about the increasing number of women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside.

Detective Constable Lori Shenher of the Vancouver Police "not only recognized but also took full ownership of the missing women issue," Deputy Chief Evans wrote, adding that she worked tirelessly with little supervision or guidance and tried to push the issues to others within the department.

"Unfortunately, she lacked the support from senior management that she needed to get the proper resources and attention to the missing women issue," the report said.

Deputy Chief Evans had harsher words for several other officers. Vancouver police sergeant Geramy Field identified Mr. Pickton as a suspect for RCMP to investigate but failed to recognize him as a suspect for the Vancouver missing women investigations, Deputy Chief Evans stated.

Staff-Sergeant Dan Dureau, who was responsible for the sexual assault squad and kept informed about the missing women cases in 1999, did not take any responsibility for the investigation, the report said. "A passive management style will not work, as evidenced here," Deputy Chief Evans wrote.

Writing about a meeting in Sept. 22, 1998, Deputy Chief Evans wrote that, according to Vancouver police detective inspector Kim Rossmo, Inspector Fred Biddlecombe "basically threw a hissy fit or a small-scale temper tantrum . . . he said there is no serial killer."

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Deputy Chief Evans described Insp. Biddlecombe's conduct at the meeting as unprofessional. He did not recognize the seriousness of the issue, she wrote.

Deputy Chief Evans also criticized Inspector Gary Greer, Deputy Chief Brian McGuinness, Chief Terry Blythe and Chief Bruce Chambers, all of the Vancouver force, who she says did not pay close enough attention to the case. She also was critical of several RCMP officers, including for Chief Superintendent Gary Bass, who she said should have acted on information that he had received.

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