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Police ‘botched’ Pickton probe, lawyer says

The negligence of the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department allowed serial killer Robert Pickton to "get away with murder" for at least five years, the lawyer for families of 18 missing and murdered women from the Downtown Eastside told the missing women inquiry.

"[The families] believe that the Vancouver Police Department, the RCMP and the criminal justice branch have the blood of [the missing women] on their hands," Cameron Ward said in his opening address at the inquiry that began Tuesday in Vancouver.

For at least five years, Mr. Ward said, dozens of women vanished "right under the noses" of the Vancouver Police Department and were murdered "under the noses" of the RCMP, even though each of the forces had information about Mr. Pickton. Both police forces "completely botched handling of the investigation," he said.

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Families of missing and murdered women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have come to the inquiry to find out why police did not act sooner and whether Mr. Pickton acted alone, Mr. Ward said.

Commissioner Wally Oppal was appointed by the B.C. government to inquire into the police investigation of Mr. Pickton, a pig farmer who was convicted in December, 2007 of the second-degree murder of six women. Authorities found the DNA of 33 missing women on Mr. Pickton's farm in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam. Mr. Pickton was arrested in February of 2002. He has said that he killed 49 women.

Mr. Ward told the inquiry that evidence will reveal a litany of failures by both the VPD and the RCMP.

He questioned how police could have failed to put together the information they had about Mr. Pickton. For at least two years, from October, 1996, to December, 1998, the RCMP were aware of an after-hours club with illegal drugs and prostitutes called Piggy's Palace located close to the Pickton farm. The "booze can" was run by Mr. Pickton's brother, Dave. Police went to court to obtain an injunction to close the place down, Mr. Ward said.

Evidence at the inquiry will show that, while seeking the injunction, the RCMP were receiving information indicating Mr. Pickton was involved in harming sex-trade workers on the pig farm that was "around the corner" from Piggy's Palace, Mr. Ward said.

The inquiry will hear that off-duty officers "frequented" Piggy's Palace, Mr. Ward said, without elaborating on whether the police were undercover or not.

"How could they [the RCMP] fail to put it together when information about Mr. Pickton's connection to the Downtown Eastside began coming in," Mr. Ward asked.

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Questions will also be raised about why police did not follow up on a tip in August, 1998 that stated that Mr. Pickton had killed one of the missing women, had women's clothing in his trailer and had talked to others about disposing bodies. The Vancouver police considered the tip credible and passed on the information to the RCMP. "The RCMP could have taken any number of steps that would have stopped Mr. Pickton in his tracks," Mr. Ward said.

Mr. Ward added that evidence is expected to show that police interviewed Mr. Pickton in 2000 but did not do a proper job of it. Police failed to follow up the interview with a search of the farm, although Mr. Pickton at that time consented to the search, Mr. Ward said.

The farm was six kilometres from the RCMP detachment, he said. After missing that opportunity to search the farm, more women were murdered there, Mr. Ward said. "It is literally unbelievable," he said.

Lawyers for the RCMP, the Vancouver police and several other groups participating in the inquiry are expected to make their opening statements on Wednesday.

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