Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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IPCC issues findings from investigation into Nottinghamshire Police contact with woman prior to her murder
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has yesterday issued findings from its investigation into Nottinghamshire Police contact with Denise Skilbeck prior to her murder last year.
Her partner, Gary Spalding, was sentenced in September 2011 at Nottingham Crown Court to a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment for her murder at a flat in the Wharf area of Newark in March 2011.
The IPCC investigation found that police did follow relevant domestic violence procedures in handling incidents involving the couple dating back to May 2008. Sadly the tragic outcome could not have been prevented or foreseen by police.
The independent investigation examined police contact with the couple on nine occasions from 2008. The last incident took place on 13 March 2011, three days before Denise was murdered.
IPCC Commissioner, Amerdeep Somal, said: “This was a desperately sad case and my thoughts again go out to the family of Denise whose life was brutally taken by a man she was in a personal relationship with and trusted. Our investigation has shown police officers attended any calls for assistance from Denise promptly, carried out appropriate risk assessments and took what steps they reasonably could to help her.
She said: “Police were right to arrest Gary Spalding for reported assaults on a number of occasions prior to the murder but he was never prosecuted due to a lack of sufficient independent evidence. Denise was reluctant to fully engage with the police. There is no evidence that based on the circumstances and information available to them, police could have realistically done any more to prevent or foresee the tragic outcome. I have had past occasion to be critical of Nottinghamshire Police in the handling of domestic violence and I am pleased that, partly as a result of IPCC recommendations, the force has taken steps to improve its performance. I would urge anyone suffering in an abusive relationship to have the courage to contact the police.”
In relation to one specific incident a police officer failed to submit a domestic violence risk form, as required by force policy. He has received management action from a senior officer at Nottinghamshire Police. The IPCC’s investigation report has been shared with the force and Denise Skilbeck’s family.
Police handling of specific incidents:
22 May 2008: Denise reported to police that her partner, Gary Spalding was outside her house and had threatened to smash a window. The call was graded as immediate response and police arrested him for common assault and criminal damage. Denise gave a statement to police saying he had pushed her onto a sofa and had smashed a window but she did not wish to pursue her complaint. It was noted that Gary Spalding was a tenant at the address and Denise had allowed him to return. Police submitted a multi-agency risk form and a police officer made an appropriate follow up visit.
24 January 2009: -Denise telephone police to report Gary Spalding had locked her out of the house. While on the phone she was allowed into the house by him. No arguing was heard and call-taker graded the incident as ‘non-attendance’ and as a domestic incident. Denise was advised to call police again for any assistance.
18 March 2009: Denise telephoned the police to report Gary Spalding had pushed her against a wall and he had left the house but she did not want the police to visit; soon after police received a call from another person, who did not want to be involved, reported the couple had been arguing and that Gary Spalding had hit Denise. The calls were correctly linked by police and incident opened as ‘domestic abuse’ and a police officer visited Denise the following morning. Denise said it was a verbal argument only – police submitted a multi-agency risk form.
3 May 2009: Denise telephoned police to report Gary Spalding had dragged her out of bed and punched her in the face; police attended straight away and arrested him on suspicion of assault occasioning actual bodily harm; Denise provided a statement to police in which she stated there had been no previous violence and that she was not willing to attend court; Denise had a mark on her face but she later told officers it was eczema; police interviewed Gary Spalding and submitted evidence to CPS. The CPS decided insufficient evidence to prosecute.
10 November 2009: Denise called police to say Gary Spalding was being aggressive towards her – officers attended and took him to another address for the night; incident recorded as a verbal argument and domestic abuse, and a further risk form completed – Denise did not wish to be updated by police.
18 April 2010: Denise reported that Gary Spalding was refusing to leave the address and that he was being verbally aggressive – call graded as urgent and police despatched; while en route, Denise telephoned to say he had chased her with a knife out of the house; officers attended swiftly and he was arrested on suspicion of affray; a knife was seized from the kitchen; He was interviewed and denied using the knife; Denise provided a statement but stated that she did not want to attend court; risk assessment upgraded to ‘medium’; it was decided insufficient evidence to prosecute; follow up visit conducted by police officer at which Denise stated that she was back with Gary Spalding and had no further problems.
11 March 2011: a Nottinghamshire medical facility telephoned police to say Gary Spalding had been aggressive towards staff and they were concerned for his welfare; officers attended Denise’s address and find her and Gary Spalding at the house, safe and well.
13 March 2011: Denise telephoned police to say her partner Gary Spalding was banging on her door and earlier he had tried to pin her down and take her mobile phone. Call graded as ‘immediate response’ and officers attended to find them arguing; officers talked separately to each of them. Denise stated that Gary Spalding had not been violent but she didn’t want him there; Gary Spalding had been drinking, but he was not drunk and disorderly and there was no evidence of assault or other offences; He was told to leave by police and he said he was going to a friend’s house; the officers volunteered to drive by Denise’s address later to ensure all was well and advised her to contact them if needed.
13 March 2011: Later the same day Gary Spalding telephoned police and the police were concerned he may harm himself. Officers attended swiftly and talked to him in a street. Police offered him a lift to a medical facility but he declined, stating he would stay at a friend’s house. An officer asked the CCTV team to keep an eye out for Gary Spalding as he was in the Newark town area.