An eight-month investigation into the conduct of a Cambridgeshire Constabulary officer who initially handled Bernadette Walker's case has been completed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
The conclusion drawn was that the officer had no case to answer for misconduct in relation to his role in the missing person investigation.
But "a number of potential areas of learning for the force" were identified and IOPC is working with Cambridgeshire Constabulary to ensure "lessons are learnt from these tragic events".
The IOPC investigation began in October 2020, when the force referred the conduct of the officer.
Witness interviews were conducted with four officers from the Cambridgeshire force and a member of police staff.
A statement was obtained under misconduct caution from the subject officer and the missing person report and its nearly 600 entries were examined, as well as other documents from the police and other agencies in connection with the investigation.
Regional director Graham Beesley said: “This is a tragic case and my thoughts and sympathies are with all those who loved Bernadette Walker and will miss her.
“We found the officer’s performance was satisfactory in that they identified essential lines of enquiry, attempted to ensure actions were progressed and carried out timely reviews of the missing persons investigation.
“The IOPC and Cambridgeshire Constabulary agreed that no officer or staff member whose actions were considered in the IOPC investigation had a case to answer for misconduct.
“We understand Cambridgeshire Constabulary has implemented a number of changes in the wake of this tragic incident and, in response to our investigation, has identified practice requiring improvement for four officers who had some involvement in the missing person investigation.
“They will now take part in the reflective practice review process to provide an opportunity for them to learn and develop in this specific area of policing.
“We are consulting with Cambridgeshire Constabulary about a number of recommendations arising from our investigation, in the area of the supervision of missing person investigations, improved training for frontline officers about missing person investigations, and guidance for officers on how to handle sexual abuse allegations which come to light in the course of a missing person investigation.”
On July 21, 2020, Bernadette Walker, 17, was reported missing by her mother and the force began a missing person investigation which was initially assessed as medium risk.
Allegations that the missing teenager had been sexually abused were also disclosed to the police by her mother in the days following the missing person report.
Focusing on the period from July 21, 2020 to September 9, 2020, investigators examined whether Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s policies and procedures were adhered to regarding the management and progression of the missing person investigation, the appropriateness of the risk level of the investigation, and the handling of the sexual abuse allegation.
It was established the investigation remained at medium risk for seven weeks and was reviewed by the subject officer seven times.
After this time, the investigation was re-graded as high risk by another officer.
Two days later, a homicide investigation began into Bernadette’s disappearance, with her parents treated as suspects.
Detective inspector Justine Jenkins, from the Beds, Cambs and Herts Major Crime Unit, said: “I am pleased we have been able to get justice for Bea after what has been such tragic circumstances. I just hope now we may get the answers we need to be able to find her and lay her to rest.
“If anyone has any information about this investigation which may help us find Bea, please get in touch.”