- Gracie’s parents have said the pain of their daughter’s loss ‘has got harder’
The parents of Gracie Spinks have slammed the ‘total incompetence’ shown by police before their daughter’s death and have called for national changes to protect women and girls.
An inquest jury concluded on Thursday that Ms Spinks, 23, was unlawfully killed by Michael Sellers in Duckmanton, Derbyshire, on June 18 2021, months after she had reported Sellers to Derbyshire Police for stalking.
The inquest heard that the force had admitted multiple failings over their investigation into Ms Spinks’ complaint, with Sellers only graded as posing a low risk and given words of advice over his offending.
No action was taken over a bag of weapons, later linked to Sellers, being found near where Gracie was killed a month later, the inquest was told.
Ms Spinks’ mother Alison Ward and father Richard Spinks have said the pain of their daughter’s loss ‘has got harder’ in the years since her death as they hit out at the force for allegedly wanting to ‘shelve’ her concerns.
Mr Spinks said: ‘I’m not happy with Derbyshire Police at all because it’s just been a catalogue of errors, one mistake after the other, not following procedures, ticking boxes, joining up the dots.
‘They just seemed to want to get the job done, deal with the bag or deal with the complaint and shelve it and forget about it. There was no investigation. It’s just total incompetence.’
The angered father added: ‘It’s appalling really, and I don’t know how anybody can have the confidence, for example, young girls going to complain about stalking or harassment, whether they’ve got the faith in the police to do something about it or to act on it, or whether they’re just going to take a note of it and shelve it again like in Gracie’s case.
‘It all centres around the police’s inaction from each of those five officers that were involved with Gracie’s case, and it got progressively worse as we got towards the fifth one.
‘Each one was more ridiculous than the one before in their inaction, excuses, lack of investigation and not knowing what they were doing.’
Mrs Ward, 53, added: ‘That’s what we keep coming back to all the time, is common sense.
‘It’s just basic policing skills that just were not put in place with regards to Gracie’s case. The only people that really took Gracie seriously were the call handlers.’
She added: ‘It’s only when you actually bring the police into that equation, that the police did nothing.All they wanted to do was shut it down.’
Speaking before the inquest conclusion, on Monday, Mr Spinks, 68, said: ‘When you lose a child, it’s bad enough, but when you lose a child to murder it’s a zillion times more heartwrenching [and] upsetting. It destroys your life, it will never be the same again.’
In tributes given to the court, Mr Spinks described his daughter as an ‘amazing and unique person’ while Mrs Ward said her family’s heart ‘had been ripped out’ by her death.
Chesterfield Coroner’s Court heard how Ms Spinks was planning to apply to become a police officer, after her brother, Tom, had already applied.
The family have since begun a campaign, named Gracie’s Law, which calls for more funding for stalking advocates to be employed by forces to deal with stalking complaints.
While a debate was held in Parliament after a petition reached 100,000 signatures, Mr Spinks said ‘nothing seems to really have happened’ and the family have now renewed their calls for action.
The officer who ‘failed’ Gracie Spinks: Policewoman, 29, with ‘no blazing concerns’ over discovery of bag of weapons weeks before Gracie Spinks was murdered is top bobsleigh athlete
The officer who had ‘no blazing concerns’ over the discovery of a bag containing weapons and the sex drug Viagra just weeks before Gracie Spinks was murdered is a talented athlete who represents her country in the bobsleigh.
Jill Lee-Liggett, 29, was a talented runner when a pupil at the private Sheffield High School – where fees now cost almost £15,000-a-term – winning both the high jump and long jump events at the Sheffield City Athletics Championships in 2007.
She went on to run for City of Sheffield and Dearne athletics club before discovering in adulthood that she had a talent for winter sports too.
A crowdfunding page she launched two months ago details how earlier this year she attended a British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association event to identify fresh talent, and ‘Instantly pushed faster than the standard to represent Great Britain as a Brakewoman at international level’. A Brakewoman is the person who runs the furthest while pushing the sled at the start of a run, then jumps on the back and applies the brakes when the sled crosses the finish line.
PC Lee-Liggett said she began testing for a place in the 2023/24 season GB squad in May, and was ‘selected to represent Great Britain as a Brakewoman in the Europa Cup’, with the season starting last month.
She is now fundraising online to support her six-day-a-week training schedule, including regular shuttles from Derbyshire to the University of Bath’s ‘push track’ where the squad trains.
On the fundraising page, which has so far netted more than £1,890 towards a £5,000 target, she wrote: ‘It may come as a surprise to you to read that representing your country doesn’t automatically qualify you for funding and I unfortunately have none, this is the case for too many athletes in the sport.’
Mr Spinks said: ‘I would like to see, across the board, all of the constabularies, and there’s a lot throughout the country, all employing a stalking co-ordinator and advocates to deal with stalking, who have been trained to be able to deal with it, to give the right advice and to make a difference.
‘We want to make a difference.’
MailOnline has contacted Derbyshire Police for comment.
Gracie was repeatedly and fatally stabbed as she tended to her horse after a catalogue of errors by police, an inquest ruled today.
The 10 members of the jury unanimously ruled that the 23-year-old model was knifed by Michael Sellers, 35, as she tended to her horse at Blue Lodge Farm in Duckmanton, Derbyshire on June 18, 2021.
Sellers was later found dead a short distance away. He is thought to have killed himself.
The death was the latest in a string of incidents in Derbyshire over the last 20 years where women have died at the hands of violent men after prior contact with police. The police watchdog has said five Derbyshire police officers had a case to answer for misconduct.
Six weeks before 23-year-old Ms Spinks was murdered, a dog walker found a rucksack on a farm track just yards away from the spot where she fell. The bag contained an axe, hunting knives, Viagra, and a note that read ‘Don’t lie’.
But the PC tasked with investigating the chilling find said she had ‘no blazing concerns’ over the Nike rucksack, and considered its contents were more likely to be related to a ‘sex act, theatrical performance, or woodwork’. The bag was subsequently filed as ‘lost and found property’.
It was later found to belong to Sellers, who had a history of harassing women at work. Gracie had also called Derbyshire police to report Sellers after he followed her one day but he was simply given ‘words of advice’.
Ms Spinks, a talented artist and part-time model, had spurned Sellers’ romantic advances six months before her death. In February 2021 she reported the ‘complete weirdo’ to police after he was seen loitering in a layby near the stables – warning: ‘He could kidnap someone’.
But a PC merely issued Sellers with ‘words of advice’. The court heard this was done because although Ms Spinks wanted Sellers’ behaviour on file, she did not wish to pursue a prosecution.
In the 101 call played to the inquest jury at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court, Ms Spinks detailed how warehouse supervisor Sellers had been dismissed from e-commerce firm Xbite weeks earlier because of his behaviour towards her and others at the company’s Barlborough warehouse.
But PC Sarah Parker, who investigated the call, did not feel it was ‘proportionate’ to request information regarding Sellers’ unwanted contact with other workers at the company.
The inquest heard ‘obsessed’ Sellers had in fact harassed a total of eight women before Ms Spinks, at least four of whom had raised his conduct with Xbite.
PC Parker also admitted she had never seen a key risk assessment form which all officers were supposed to complete in stalking cases – and agreed she was ‘effectively left to her own devices’ on such cases, having received no training from her force on stalking.
Her supervising sergeant also told the court that because she had been moved over to a response team to monitor lockdown breaches as part of the force’s pandemic response, he had therefore not been managing her, or the case, as closely as he normally would have.
Ms Spinks’ father, Richard, told the court he only discovered the bag of weapons had been found in Duckmanton when he read about it on Facebook on the day his daughter was murdered.
The local radio DJ told the coroner the failure to warn the community of the discovery meant ‘another chance to save Gracie’s life was missed’, adding that he would have ‘taken every step to keep her safe’, had he known of the discovery.
Ms Spinks was stabbed 10 times at Blue Lodge Farm on June 18 2021. The previous month, the Nike bag was found in the middle of a farm track nearby. But the officer sent out to interview the dog walker who found the bag thought the discovery was ‘bizarre’ rather than posing any kind of potential harm to members of the community – and classed it as ‘low risk’.
PC Jill Lee-Liggett, who is also a member of the Great Britain women’s bobsleigh squad, was interviewed by the police watchdog, the court heard, and told investigators she had considered a number of different reasons for the bag’s contents, including ‘woodwork, theatrics, props for a sex act – not crimes of murderous intent’.
Giving evidence last week, she said: ‘I did consider if they could be used as weapons or had been used as weapons, but the offences had not been made out, so I didn’t have crimes to record.’
She added: ‘When I was doing an assessment of the knives and hammers and everything else in the bag, I was looking at the condition of knives, I looked at any dirt or damage or blood, there was none.
‘My risk assessment was downgraded, I didn’t have a blazing concern with the bag.’
The court heard PC Lee-Liggett, who had four years’ service under her belt, did tell her Sergeant that the bag also contained a Marks & Spencer’s receipt which they could use to track the purchaser down, only for him to reply: ‘Jill, why would you? The Sergeant, Lee Richards, who has since retired from the force after 31 years’ service, told the court he ‘felt like a fool’ for failing to realise the bag of weapons could be connected to a crime. Mr Richards told jurors he ‘wished he could change the past’ over how the rucksack was dealt with.
The hearing was told the receipt in the bag would have led police to the address Sellers shared with his parents in Sheffield.
Following the murder and apparent suicide of Sellers, police interviewed his mother, who told officers she had seen knives in Sellers’ bedroom two months before the murder – and told her son to dispose of the blades.
She said Sellers had gone on a ‘downward spiral’ after losing his job for harassing Ms Spinks.
The inquest also heard that Sellers’ mother also found a bag of carrots and apples in his bedroom the day before Ms Spinks was killed – and became concerned the next day when she noticed the bag had gone, because she remembered Ms Spinks had a horse.
She reportedly went to search for her son, heading in the direction of Duckmanton, to tell him to ‘come home’, but found the village cordoned off and so returned home.
In the final days of the hearing, Detective Superintendent Darren De’ath, who leads Derbyshire Constabulary’s public protection team, formally apologised to the Spinks family in court and said the force ‘should have done better’.
Mr De’ath said he was ‘appalled’ at the way the force had ‘failed’ to record and retain information in connection to Ms Spinks’ report of stalking in February 2021, and the dog walker’s report about the bag of weapons.
The inquest had to take a break after his comments as Ms Spinks’ mother and other family members became emotional.
Narita Bahra KC, representing Gracie’s family, said they were ‘disappointed and upset’ with the apology, which they deemed ‘completely inappropriate’ in the circumstances.
The police force with an appalling record of protecting women from stalkers: Derbyshire Police’s catalogue of failures laid bare
Derbyshire police has an appalling record when it comes to protecting women from stalkers.
Showjumper Tania Moore, 26, was rammed off a country lane near Alkmonkton in March 2004 and shot in the face by her former boyfriend Mark Dyche, then 36, after she broke off their engagement.
She had repeatedly told police about her fears following a robbery at her stables, stalking and threats to gouge out her eyes and break her legs from the gun fanatic, who had a history of violence.
But an investigation by the police watchdog said that the force’s response was ‘abysmal – no officer took control and no meaningful investigation took place’ and basic lines of inquiry which might have prevented the tragedy had never been pursued.
One police officer was later sacked, another demoted and four others, including a chief inspector, reprimanded. Dyche was jailed for life after being convicted of murder.
Rachael Slack, 38, and her 23-month-old son Auden were stabbed to death in their home by her ex partner Andrew Cairns in June 2010 – despite Rachael repeatedly telling police she feared for her life.
In the weeks leading up to the murders, golf trainer Cairns, then 44, had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and arrested for threatening to kill Ms Slack. He attacked them at their home in Holbrook just five days after being released on bail before killing himself.
An initial report by the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC), which later became the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), said police were not at fault. But a subsequent inquest, serious case review and fresh IPCC investigation said more could have been done.
Ms Slack had been assessed as at high risk of murder, but she had not been informed of the danger she was in or consulted on steps which could have made her safer.
Helen Hancock and her new partner Martin Griffiths, who were both killed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2020 by her estranged husband, Rhys Hancock, after he found out about their relationship.
A court heard Hancock was on police bail at the time of the murders after he allegedly threw an object at his wife in October 2019, causing a laceration.
His mother had contacted police to warn that he was on the way to Ms Hancock’s home armed with two knives but officers could not get to the house in time.
Hancock, formerly a head teacher of a special school, was jailed for life with a minimum of 31 years in October 2020.
The force referred itself to the IOPC due to the contact between Derbyshire Police and Ms Hancock in the period leading up to the murders.
The IOC looked at the actions of three Derbyshire Constabulary officers after Mrs Hancock reported a breach of a non-molestation order on 30 December 2019 – just days before she died.
The investigation did not find any evidence the officers had responded other than in accordance with current local and national policy and procedures.
But two officers were given words of advice regarding Derbyshire Constabulary’s positive action policy and recording rationale behind decision making.
The investigation found that no action could have been taken to prevent the deaths of Mrs Hancock and Mr Griffiths.