Learning accepted by Derbyshire Constabulary following IOPC investigation into contact with Gracie Spinks
A co-ordinator has been appointed by Derbyshire Constabulary to promote best practice in stalking cases, following learning identified by the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) investigation into police contact with Gracie Spinks before her death.
We have been advised that other action taken by the force in response to our findings includes issuing guidance to officers on the handling of non-domestic stalking cases. This incorporates assessing which cases should be dealt with by specialist officers within the Public Protection Unit.
The IOPC investigated the circumstances of contact between Ms Spinks, 23, and Derbyshire Constabulary before she was found stabbed at stables where her horse was kept, in Duckmanton, on 18 June 2021. It was believed she died at the hands of former colleague Michael Sellers, and an inquest jury today (Thursday 16 November) determined she was unlawfully killed.
During our investigation, completed in May 2022, we found a case to answer for misconduct for five officers in total.
In February 2021, Ms Spinks made an allegation of stalking against Mr Sellers, and both were spoken to by officers. Our inquiries highlighted failings and missed investigative opportunities that would have been in line with police policy for dealing with stalking and harassment including:
• no risk assessment or safeguarding plan
• no national data base check on Mr Sellers
• no rationale provided for why he was not arrested once identified as a suspect
• no written record of any consideration of a Stalking Prevention Order
• and, although Mr Sellers had been dismissed from the firm where he and Ms Spinks worked following allegations made by other female employees, the disciplinary investigation records were not requested by police.
We decided two officers, a constable and a sergeant, had a case to answer for misconduct for potential breaches of professional standards as it could be considered their investigation into the stalking report did not meet the expected criteria set out in relevant guidance. At a disciplinary meeting held by Derbyshire Constabulary last November (2022), chaired by a senior officer from an external force, the allegations were found not proven.
We also looked into the actions and decision making of another three officers following the discovery of a bag, containing a hammer, axe, knives, Viagra and a note, near the stables in the month before Ms Spinks was killed. After her death, the bag was indirectly linked to Mr Sellers through a receipt inside it.
Two constables and a supervising sergeant, who were not involved in the stalking investigation, told us they did not think the contents of the bag were concerning, one remarking the items had the hallmarks of “a kid’s game”. We found that, contrary to policy, the bag was placed in ‘found property’. It was our view a disciplinary panel could have found that the bag’s contents did represent a risk and should have been handled as evidential property requiring efforts to trace the owner.
We decided all three had a case to answer for misconduct. At disciplinary meetings also held by the force in November last year (2022), the two constables were found to have breached standards of police professional behaviour for duties and responsibilities and received written warnings. Due to retirement, no action could be taken against a sergeant.
IOPC Regional Director Derrick Campbell said: “Our thoughts remain with Gracie’s family at this difficult time for them.
“It was clear from our enquiries there were missed opportunities from the outset and local policing officers were unaware the investigation should have gone to the Public Protection Unit where there are more specialised resources for such cases. It is positive that in accepting our learning, the force has taken steps to address this by issuing guidance to officers and appointing a co-ordinator to advise on stalking investigations and promote a victim-led approach.”
“We also upheld a complaint from Gracie’s family about the way police treated the bag that was found and again the force has acted on our recommendations by ensuring the relevant policy is now accessible to officers via their intranet, to avoid any future confusion.”