Essex Police admit Maria Stubbings murder case mistakes

Woman with head in hands On average, two women every week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales

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A police force has admitted making mistakes in a domestic abuse and murder case, ahead of an official report.

Mother-of-two Maria Stubbings, 50, died in December 2008 after being strangled in her Chelmsford home by ex-boyfriend, Marc Chivers - a convicted killer.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating how Essex Police responded to a call for help from her several days before her death.

The watchdog has repeatedly expressed concerns about domestic abuse cases.

Start Quote

On behalf of Essex Police I wish to express my condolences to the family and friends of Maria Stubbings”

End Quote Assistant Chief Constable Derek Benson Essex Police

The police admission of failings ahead of the official report is unusual and came in response to an investigation by BBC Radio 4's Face The Facts.

Days before her death, Ms Stubbings told police her house had been burgled, that she believed Chivers was responsible and that she feared for her safety.

Chivers already had a conviction for murdering a previous girlfriend and had also been jailed for assaulting Ms Stubbings.

But officers took days to respond to her calls for help.

When they visited her home a week after the first call she was already dead, her body hidden in a downstairs bathroom. Chivers was at the house and told the police she had gone away.

Calling card

Maria's brother, Manuel Fernandez, has told Radio 4's Face The Facts he is astonished they did not probe further.

"How can a convicted murderer open the door, with her car on the drive, her keys in full view and her phone not being answered?

"Her friends had made frequent phone calls to the police, really deeply concerned for her safety, and they left him a calling card and said 'Well if she comes back, let us know.'"

The following day, officers returned to the house and discovered Maria's body. In December 2009, Mark Chivers admitted murdering Maria and was jailed for life.

The IPCC is due to publish its report shortly. But prompted by an investigation by BBC Radio 4's Face The Facts, Essex police issued a statement to the BBC in which they accept mistakes were made and apologise.

Assistant Chief Constable Derek Benson said "On behalf of Essex Police I wish to express my condolences to the family and friends of Maria Stubbings. Essex Police did make mistakes and we have already taken steps to ensure this does not happen again."

Essex Police felt unable to comment in further detail until the IPCC report was published. But the BBC understands that the investigation is likely to focus on officers' failure to arrest and poor risk assessment.

Repeated failure

These are two key areas where the police watchdog, the IPCC, has repeatedly admonished forces for getting it wrong and breaching their own guidelines on protecting victims of domestic abuse.

Start Quote

If a woman is ringing 999 and says her partner is threatening to kill her, then she requires an immediate response”

End Quote Amerdeep Somal IPCC commissioner

The IPCC publishes its investigation findings and in serious cases, recommendations are sent to all police forces in England and Wales so lessons can be learned from previous errors.

But the message is not getting through, prompting the IPCC - for the third time in four years - to use its annual report to raise concerns about what it calls "a disturbing pattern of avoidable mistakes being repeated."

"These mistakes", it told the BBC, "include failure to arrest, treating incidents in isolation, poor risk assessment and flaws in intelligence systems."

IPCC commissioner Amerdeep Somal told Radio 4's Face The Facts programme that officers must also use common sense.

"If a woman is ringing 999 and says her partner is threatening to kill her, then she requires an immediate response.

"If she says he is a suspect and that there is nobody else who is responsible for this, then he should be spoken to at the very least and he should be arrested."

Deputy Chief Constable Carmel Napier of Gwent Police speaks on domestic violence for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

She admits officers are failing but says she is committed to improving the way police deal with such cases.

"We are repeatedly failing in some areas to protect victims of domestic violence together with other agencies.

"And we are taking on board all those learnings and doing all in our power to make sure such matters do not happen again.

"We must not forget that progress has been made. But that does not forgive the failings that have been highlighted by the IPCC."

Listen to Face The Facts on BBC Radio 4 at 1230 BST on Thursday 19 August and repeated at 2100 BST on Sunday 22 August or on BBC iPlayer.

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