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Senior Mountie defends officer's visit to confront Pickton

RCMP Superintendent Robert Williams attends the missing women inquiry in Vancouver.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

Several months before Robert Pickton was arrested, a Mountie went on his own initiative to speak to him, telling him that police regarded him as a person of interest in the murder of prostitutes.

However, during cross-examination in the Missing Women Inquiry, RCMP Superintendent Robert Williams, who in 2002 reviewed the police investigation of the serial killer, refused to criticize the officer. Frank Henley, a retired RCMP officer, was a corporal at the time he was working on the Pickton case.

A police officer could undermine part of a murder investigation by speaking to a prime suspect without permission and revealing information from police sources, Supt. Williams told the inquiry on Thursday. "It could have some bearing on the investigation," he said.

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But Cpl. Henley could have reasons for the visit to Mr. Pickton that have not yet been explained, Supt. Williams said.

"It's not a normal practice, but I am sure he can explain his reason," he said, adding that Cpl. Henley was a "very experienced and capable member" before he retired. Mr. Henley is expected to testify later at the inquiry.

During cross-examination, Supt. Williams has identified several aspects of the investigation that could have been handled differently. But he did not waiver in his endorsement. He told the inquiry he stood by the conclusion of his review a decade ago: that the RCMP acted appropriately.

The provincial inquiry, headed by former attorney-general Wally Oppal, is looking into why Mr. Pickton was not arrested sooner. The serial killer was arrested in February, 2002, although he was first identified as a possible suspect in a tip to Vancouver police in 1998. He was convicted in 2007 of the second-degree murder of six women.

Cpl. Henley was assigned in 1999 to work with investigators from the Coquitlam RCMP detachment who thought they had identified Mr. Pickton as being responsible for a murder.

The review in 2002, co-written by Supt. Williams and staff sergeant K.W. Simmill, stated that a confidential source of the Vancouver police, Ross Caldwell, had said that another person had seen a woman's body hanging in the pig barn and Mr. Pickton was either skinning or about to skin the body.

Cpl. Henley located Lynn Ellingsen, the woman who allegedly saw Mr. Pickton with the body. However, Ms. Ellingsen vehemently denied seeing anything like that, the report said. She agreed to a polygraph test but did not show up for the test on the advice of her lawyer.

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Cpl. Henley had the impression that the formal investigation ended after a Coquitlam officer interviewed Mr. Pickton in January, 2000, the report said. But the corporal confronted Mr. Pickton with information from Ms. Ellingsen and Mr. Caldwell, and made it clear to Mr. Pickton that he was a person of interest in the murders of several prostitutes, the report said.

At the inquiry, Supt. Williams said the report provided an account of Cpl. Henley's remarks to the review team. He did not do any follow-up investigation, Supt. Williams said. He has previously told the inquiry that the review was done at the request of Department of Justice lawyers in anticipation of civil lawsuits arising from the Pickton case.

Although Cpl. Henley said the investigation had been completed before he spoke to Mr. Pickton, Supt. Williams said the Pickton investigation continued to be a priority for the Coquitlam RCMP detachment at that time. "I find it kind of difficult – his perception [that]the investigation was ended – but that was what was related to us," Supt. Williams said.

The inquiry continues Friday with Supt. Williams still under cross-examination.

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