Last updated: 03.12.19

Public Inquiry: Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman

Who led the inquiry? Michael Bichard

Local authority: Cambridge

What happened?

The Bichard Inquiry Report of 2004 was commissioned by the government following the conviction of Ian Huntley for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2003. Ian Huntley worked as a caretaker at the school both girls attended. Although Huntley was vetted for the post, including police checks, this failed to identify previous allegations of sexual offences and serious incidences between 1995 and 1999 in two different geographical areas.

Why was the inquiry set up?

The Home Secretary actioned the inquiry to investigate record keeping, vetting practices and information sharing in relation to child protection procedures in Humberside Police and Cambridge Constabulary. Lessons learned from the inquiry were set to update and improve local and national child protection procedures and policies to reduce the reoccurrence of such an event.


  • Failure to share information: Humberside Police and children’s social services failed to share information to establish a true picture of Huntley’s previous convictions and worrying behaviour.
  • Insufficient training for frontline roles: Professionals working in frontline roles did not know how safeguarding systems worked and had insufficient training to support effective responses. This led to the deletion of important records of allegations made about Huntley.
  • Out-of-date child protection database: This was not updated on a regular basis to indicate adults who may pose a risk to children.
  • Lack of necessary action taken: Allegations of Huntley engaging in sexual relationships with children were made to social services, though no action was taken.
  • Poor record keeping: Huntley’s details were not recorded properly, and police searches were not conducted in his two known names: Ian Nixon and Ian Huntley. This would have indicated Huntley’s historical allegations.
  • Poor employment checks: There were poor reference checks and no explanations identified for gaps in employment.

Impacts on practice

  • Improvement in pre-employment checks and ensuring reliable references are in place before someone can start work.
  • Introduction of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which introduced ‘Vetting and Barring Scheme (Criminal Records Bureau) in 2002. This was updated in 2013 with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Establishment of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which required lists of people who are barred from certain types of work with children and adults.
  • Introduction of the National information technology system for police intelligence, to enable good information sharing between police.
  • Publication of ‘Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment’ in 2006 for schools to follow and ensure children are protected from harm as much as possible. Current guidance includes ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (2018).
  • Contribution towards the development of ‘Every Child Matters’ (2003), ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (2010, 2013, 2015 and 2018).