A top Mountie has identified several shortcomings in the Robert Pickton serial killer investigation 10 years after he co-wrote a report that absolved the RCMP of any mistakes.
During cross-examination at the Missing Women Inquiry, Superintendent Robert Williams was hesitant to say unequivocally that investigators had done anything wrong, emphasizing on several occasions that he was only expressing his opinion.
But when he was asked whether Mr. Pickton would have been arrested sooner if investigators had done what he now says they should have, he replied: “perhaps.”
“There was room for improvement,” he said.
Supt. Williams and staff sergeant K.W. Simmill reviewed the RCMP investigation of the Pickton case in the fall of 2002 at the request of government lawyers in anticipation of a lawsuit filed by families of two of Mr. Pickton’s victims.
Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002, and was convicted five years later of the second-degree murder of six women. Mr. Pickton once said he killed 49 women.
The 2002 report concluded that the RCMP acted appropriately and followed up investigative leads. “There is little doubt that the RCMP attempted to exhaust all investigative avenues relative to the suspect,” the report stated.
Supt. Williams, who is currently the officer in charge of the serious crime branch in Alberta, told the inquiry the report was not intended to evaluate the quality or adequacy of the police investigation.
“We were not there to critique or criticize anyone,” he said. “My report was done for civil litigation. It was not to look at the rights and wrongs of the investigation,” he said.
The review was based entirely on interviews with eight investigators and decision makers involved in the case, he said. On the advice of Department of Justice lawyers, he did not speak to anyone from the Vancouver Police Department, he said.
In response to questioning, Supt. Williams pointed out what he would have done differently in several situations if he had been involved in the investigation.
He would never have allowed an officer to interview Mr. Pickton in 2000 with one of the suspected killer’s closest friends in the room. He was critical of an officer who allowed Mr. Pickton to refuse an interview with police in 1999.
Mr. Pickton told police in late summer that they could come back to speak to him during the rainy, winter season. “I would never accept that as an answer. If I was the supervisor, I would have sent them right back,” Supt. Williams said.
Also, he would have directed officers to check out the content of barrels that Mr. Pickton brought to a rendering plant from his pig farm, he said.
Art Vertlieb, the inquiry’s counsel, told the inquiry that Coquitlam RCMP had received a tip in 1999 that Mr. Pickton was disposing of bodies at a rendering plant. Police had Mr. Pickton under surveillance and followed him to a rendering plant twice but did not “get out of their cars” to investigate what he was delivering to the plant.
Supt. Williams said he would have tried harder to find out whether Lynn Ellingsen was telling the truth and to have her take a polygraph test.
The RCMP had received detailed tips in 1999 from three people about how Mr. Pickton was killing women. Ms. Ellingsen was identified as the person providing information to the tipsters but when questioned by police, Ms. Ellingsen denied everything.
Supt. Williams said a forensic polygraph examiner should have explained things a bit more to her. “That’s my opinion on what I would have done. I do not know if it is a mistake. [Not pursuing a polygraph test]was a determination made [at that time]by the investigative team,” he said.
The inquiry into whether Mr. Pickton should have been arrested sooner continues Thursday with further cross-examination of Mr. Williams.