Police could have arrested the killer of postmaster’s son Craig Hodson-Walker six months before his brutal murder, a report disclosed today.
An official investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) discovered that DNA evidence linked gunman Anselm Ribera to other crimes – but he was not arrested.
The IPCC said it found clear failings by officers who have since said that they were “too busy” with a heavy workload.
The report also said the mistakes were compounded by the “organisational weaknesses” of the West Mercia force.
It was revealed in December that three detectives were under investigation for misconduct charges and West Mercia Police has confirmed that six officers were investigated by the IPCC and three of those may now face disciplinary action.
The IPCC report revealed that DNA samples were not properly submitted and that junior officers were dealing with serious robbery cases because senior officers were too busy.
It found that Ribera, who murdered Mr Hodson-Walker in January 2009, had been linked by DNA evidence to two other robberies in north Worcestershire and was suspected of a third.
Detectives were made aware in August 2008, through the national DNA database, that Ribera was matched to evidence recovered from two of the robberies.
The crimes all took place in 2008. The first was on March 25, the second was on May 9, and the third was an armed robbery at a pub on August 25.
On 25 September 2008 Ribera was circulated on the Police National Computer as wanted for two of the robberies, and three days later he was identified by detectives as a suspect for the third because of the modus operandi used.
The 34-year-old, from Druids Heath, went on to murder 29-year-old Craig Hodson-Walker, who was engaged and was trying to defend his parents from armed robbers at their shop in Fairfield, Worcestershire, on January 9 2009.
IPCC Commissioner Len Jackson said: “Regrettably, there were clear failings by individual detectives in this case, but it merits saying they were officers under pressure of heavy workload working, at times, without necessary supervision.
“The investigation found the mistakes made by individuals were undoubtedly compounded by organisational weaknesses.
“Despite the failings at individual and organisational levels, it is unclear whether even had officers acted earlier on the evidence available, Anselm Ribera would have been free to commit the awful crime at Fairfield Post Office.
“An IPCC investigator and a senior West Mercia officer have met the family of Mr Hodson-Walker to explain the investigation findings. I would like to again offer my condolences to the family whose grief is beyond my imagination.
“Lessons must be learnt here and the recommendations we have put forward must be implemented.”
West Mercia Police said: “The previous robbery offences could have been dealt with better and we initiated thorough re-investigations and referred the apparent issues to the IPCC.”
Asst Chief Con Simon Chesterman, of West Mercia Police, said: “The IPCC report recognises the scale of the demand being placed on the force at the time which had diverted some detective officers away from their core roles to deal with major crimes. This does not excuse the unacceptable delay in submitting forensic samples for analysis or the fact that more should have been done to locate and arrest the suspect.”
In December, Ribera and brothers, Declan and Christopher Morrisey from Shelson and Shirley, received minimum 34-year life sentences for the murder of Craig and the attempted murder of his dad Ken, who was shot in the leg.