POLITICS

Inspector disputes claims at Pickton inquiry that he ruled out serial killer

01/26/2012 06:29 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - A former Vancouver police inspector who has faced intense criticism at the Robert Pickton inquiry is disputing some of the allegations against him, rejecting claims he ruled out the possibility of a serial killer and suggesting one of his fiercest critics is biased.

Several witnesses have singled out Insp. Fred Biddlecombe, who was in charge of the force's major crime section during the late 1990s as the force received reports of sex workers disappearing from the city's Downtown Eastside.

Biddlecombe has been accused of being a hot-headed, arrogant manager quick to dismiss evidence that a serial killer could be at work and instead clinging to the belief that the women weren't actually missing.

Those criticisms have been amplified this week with the testimony of former detective Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiler who was among the first to warn that a serial killer was responsible.

Rossmo has testified Biddlecombe was immediately confrontational when a working group suggested the serial killer angle, having a "temper tantrum" at a September 1998 meeting and effectively disbanding the team.

Biddlecombe's lawyer, David Neave, questioned Rossmo during a heated cross-examination Thursday.

Neave pointed to a newspaper article in September 1998 in which Biddlecombe was quoted as saying he hadn't ruled out the possibility of a serial killer. In the article, Biddlecombe also repeated the force's position at the time that there was nonetheless no evidence police were dealing with a serial killer case.

"Insp. Biddlecombe was not ruling out the possibility of a serial killer — fair?" Neave asked Rossmo.

"Based on his actions and what he said in the meeting on the 22nd of September (1998), I felt that he had effectively ruled it out," replied Rossmo.

"If the statement is correct (in the newspaper article), Insp. Biddlecombe was not ruling out the possibility of a serial killer," Neave repeated.

"This is a newspaper story," replied Rossmo. "You're acting like police departments are always truthful with the media."

That prompted laughter from the public gallery.

Rossmo and his working group were preparing to issue a news release later that month telling the public about their work, specifically that they were looking into whether "a serial murderer is preying upon people in the Downtown Eastside."

Rossmo has said he hoped the news release would also serve as a public warning.

But Biddlecombe nixed the release, complaining to a colleague that it was "inaccurate and quite inflammatory," the inquiry has heard.

In the meantime, Biddlecombe was ordering the force's chief spokeswoman, Const. Anne Drennan, to tell reporters there was no evidence of a serial killer, according to an internal Vancouver police report. Drennan didn't publicly acknowledge the possibility of a serial murderer until November 1999.

Neave also pointed out that in May of 1999, Biddlecombe assigned more than half a dozen investigators to what's become known as the missing women review team, or Project Amelia.

The way Rossmo tells it, he and Biddlecombe had a caustic working relationship. After the meeting in September 1998, which some lawyers at the inquiry have started to refer to as the "temper tantrum meeting," Rossmo said Biddlecombe refused to interact with him.

Neave suggested Rossmo's beef with the force extended beyond Biddlecombe.

Rossmo left the force in December 2000, after the department declined to extend his contract as a geographic profiler.

Rather than accept a lesser-paying position of constable, Rossmo sued the force for wrongful dismissal. Rossmo lost at trial, and again on appeal.

Neave read from portions of the B.C. Supreme Court decision until he was ordered to stop by Commissioner Wally Oppal.

Rossmo now teaches at Texas State University and was qualified as an expert witness in geographic profiling and criminal investigations.

Neave had nothing to say about accusations that Biddlecombe lost his temper at the September 1998 meeting, nor did he address accusations that Biddlecombe directed the investigation on the premise that the women weren't missing

Rossmo and others have argued the failure of senior Vancouver police officials to accept the serial killer theory early on was a key reason Pickton wasn't caught sooner.

Biddlecombe is expected to testify later.

The inquiry is examining why the Vancouver police and the RCMP in nearby Port Coquitlam failed to catch Pickton as he spent years murdering sex workers from the Downtown Eastside.

Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and was later convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.

The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm in Port Coquitlam, and he told an undercover police officer in jail that he killed a total of 49.