Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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Changes made to North Wales Police policy for domestic abuse incidents following Laura Stuart investigation

Improvements have been made to how North Wales Police deal with domestic abuse following an investigation into prior police contact with murder victim Laura Stuart.

Ms Stuart, 33, was stabbed to death in Denbigh town centre on 12 August 2017 by her former partner Jason Cooper.

Eighteen reports concerning Ms Stuart and/or her ex-partner Jason Cooper were made to North Wales Police over a two year period between August 2015 and 9 August 2017, including verbal altercations and allegations of assault.

Our investigation found that prior to Ms Stuart’s murder, Mr Cooper was not arrested or interviewed in respect of the alleged domestic abuse, nor was his phone seized to progress allegations of harassment, stalking or malicious communications.

In respect of the two allegations of assault made by Ms Stuart, police officers made numerous, unsuccessful attempts to obtain an account from her, but, beyond referrals to other agencies, did not implement any additional safeguarding measures, nor pursue Mr Cooper based on the information they had.

Misconduct was proven for one police officer at a meeting in April 2019 over allegations that he failed to comply with the North Wales Police domestic abuse policy after Mr Cooper sent threatening messages to Ms Stuart.

Following our suggestions for organisational learning, improvements have been made at North Wales Police including making it best practice that officers in possession of body worn video equipment would activate it when attending domestic abuse incidents, stopping the use of Police Information Notices (PINs) in stalking cases in line with national guidance and updating force policy.

North Wales Police has also created a new post for a Protecting Vulnerable People (PVP) trainer to help improve the force’s training in relation to domestic abuse. Further training for all frontline staff has also been commissioned on coercive and controlling behaviour, stalking and harassment, sexual violence and cultural issues.

IOPC Operations Manager Mel Palmer said: “Reports made to police included allegations that Mr Cooper had used violence, made threats, had financial influence over Laura, attempted to remove her from the house following arguments and had threatened to distribute intimate photographs of her. These behaviours were likely to cause Laura distress, isolation and humiliation and escalated over the two years leading up to the tragic events of 12 August 2017.

“The range of characteristics and dynamics of domestic abuse mean that police officers need to be vigilant. Incidents that may be perceived as low risk need to be viewed as part of a bigger picture so that forces view risk holistically to better safeguard women like Laura.

“We are pleased to hear that North Wales Police are making improvements and providing training for frontline officers, particularly on controlling and coercive behaviour and stalking offences.”

Our investigation, which was completed in December 2018, followed a mandatory referral from North Wales Police and considered whether reported incidents were appropriately resourced and progressed, whether appropriate risk assessments and safety plans were implemented, and whether the police response was in accordance with local and national police policy and guidance.

Publication of our findings has awaited the conclusion of misconduct proceedings.

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