How many more? The police have blood on their hands and it’s no longer enough to say “We may not have done our very best, we are sorry.”
Nineteen-year-old Shana Grice was being stalked by her ex-partner Michael Lane. She was so concerned by his behaviour that she reported him to Sussex Police five times. Shana was brought up by her parents to respect authority. She was polite and acquiesced when reporting.
Lane had stalked 13 women before Shana. Yet no one bothered to check the system. Well, you don’t if you don’t take stalking seriously.
Despite the fact that the police fined Shana for wasting their time, she still reported him because she was scared. That tells me a lot. The police had five occasions to do the right thing: to take her seriously, to ask the right questions, to investigate, to search the intelligence and crime reporting system, and to collect the evidence.
They did not. In 2017, Lane murdered her and was jailed for life.
It was six years earlier, in 2011, when my Victim's Voice survey reported on the poor experiences of stalking victims at the hands of the police. That led to me spearheading the All Party Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform campaign, which resulted in stalking being criminalised in 2012.
This was a major step forward for victims, or so we thought.
We recommended mandatory training, which has still not happened. And since then, I have been involved in thousands of cases where victims have not been taken seriously, where they were put more at risk and let down by the very people who are supposed to help them.
We know from our casework at Paladin, which I founded to provide specialist support to high risk victims, that Shana Grice is not an anomaly.
It was also Sussex Police to whom 32-year-old Michelle Savage three times reported her threatening ex-partner Craig before he short her and her mother, Heather, dead, at point blank range, last year. An investigation - the results of which were published this week - has found the police call handler failed to deal with the incidents properly and has been given 'management training'
Twenty-two year-old Alice Ruggles reported her ex-boyfriend, Trimaan Dhillon, to Northumbria police multiple times, explaining that he was stalking her. A Northumbria Police officer contacted his barracks in Edinburgh and spoke to a superior, but not Military Police or Police Scotland - despite the fact he had a history of terrorising and stalking other women. Dhillon was told to stop contacting her or face arrest. He ignored the warning and drove 120 miles to Tyneside to murder Alice, cutting her throat.
Last month, a review found that the onus should not have been put on Alice to decide whether she wanted Dhillon arrested. While Northumbria Police's Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon said changes have been made nationally regarding the response to stalking and harassment in the light of the horrific case.
Having successfully lobbied National Police Chief Counsel and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue services (HMICFRS) to undertake an inspection into the police response to stalking, HMICFRS reported on their findings in 2017.
They highlighted a 100 per cent failure rate across the six areas they inspected, yet the recommendations have still have not been fully implemented two years on. Victims are still being let down by under-recording, inconsistencies and a lack of understanding.
Why is it that when women and girls report stalking, they are being dismissed?
Many say it’s a resource issue. That’s not my experience. Tania Moore was murdered in Derbyshire, yet more resources were put into an operation regarding the theft of chickens than finding Mark Dyche, who was stalking Tania and had access to firearms.
Thames Valley Police sent two officers to a theft of a bicycle allegation made by Alan Pemberton, yet they did not dispatch one officer each time Julia Pemberton reported domestic abuse. Alan shot his 15-year-old son four times, when he tried to prevent him getting into the house to kill Julia in 2003, and succeeded in killing his wife, too.
Helen Pearson reported stalking to Devon and Cornwall Police on 125 occasions. The last call was her attempted murder. However, the police put more resources into trying to prove that she was making it up, rather than investigating the case and collecting evidence. Helen said, early on, that she thought the stalker may be Joseph Willis, as he had asked her out to see a band and reacted badly when she politely declined. He left a dead cat on her doorstep two weeks before he tried to kill her. The police failed to take her seriously.
Linah Keza told the Metropolitan Police “I’m so scared I can’t breathe.” She was being stalked by her ex David Gikawa. He’d made a threat to kill her friend, who was protecting her and slashed his tyres. He was a serial perpetrator, yet the Met did not take her concerns seriously, and - despite his violent history towards previous partners - they closed the case in 2013. A day later Gikawa entered Keza’s home and stabbed her three times in front of their two-year-old daughter. Three officers were found guilty of gross misconduct and given a final written warning.
At least two women are stalked and murdered in England and Wales each week, and many more take their own lives (it’s estimated between three and 10 but no-one keeps the figures, it’s not important enough).
I could go on highlighting cases with similar failings. It’s nauseating. Women are telling the police they are being stalked, threatened and harassed; that they are scared and fear they will be killed - then they are. This has been going on for decades. Ultimately, it comes down to decision-making – what’s important and what is not.
Granted, a lack of training about risk and stalking is an issue, but there’s also a real lack of professional curiosity, care and - something which I have been increasingly paying more attention to - plain old misogyny. Let’s face it, it’s mainly men making these decisions; the same goes at the top and across Government. If men were being murdered at these rates they would be a full-scale inquiry. It would be treated as a pandemic.
Most of these murders in slow motion, as I call them, are preventable. What's more, each murder costs between £1.54 and £2 million to investigate, so that is the major resource issue. Why not get it right the first time: invest in keeping women and girls safe? This will save both money and lives.
It’s not enough for Sussex Police to say “we may not have done our very best and we are sorry.” These empty apologies have been going on for decades. Sadly, the police never change. They run training sessions and then say they have “learned the lessons” - until the next murder happens.
Serial offenders must be proactively tracked and managed, and manslaughter charges should be considered in cases of police failure. Only then will there be real consequences for serial perpetrators and police – and only then will the lives of women and girls be taken seriously.