29th August 2019

Ben Hoare Bell LLP Police Misconduct Solicitor Katy Stephenson reflects on seeking to challenge alleged police errors following unlawful killings by recently released suspects.

I have recently read news articles regarding the inquest into the sad death of Kay Richardson. Ms Richardson was murdered by her estranged husband Alan Martin just days after he was questioned and released by Northumbria Police. Ms Richardson made allegations to police on 07 September 2018 that her husband had assaulted and raped her. Her husband was arrested by police and questioned. He was later released under investigation without any conditions being imposed. At the time of release, police returned to him a set of keys for the home he jointly owned with Ms Richardson. He later used these keys to access the property and wait for Ms Richardson.

Ms Richardson was subsequently assaulted and strangled by Alan Martin at her home on 20 September 2018, only two days after she had obtained a non-molestation order against him from the family court. Alan Martin then committed suicide. Prior to Ms Richardson’s death Police had received reports of at least 10 domestic violence incidents relating to Alan Martin from around 2011 to 2018. Within the inquest into Ms Richardson’s death, the Sunderland Coroner Mr Derek Winter ruled that Ms Richardson was unlawfully killed. Mr Winter further expressed his concerns regarding the risk to domestic abuse victims when suspects are released “under investigation” but not on bail.

Further details of the above case can be found here.

Reviewing the tragic circumstances of the above case brought to mind a case arising from similar circumstances in which I acted in a civil claim for compensation on behalf of two clients following the death of their family member who was unlawfully killed by his partner in 2016.

This case involved a same sex relationship with a history of frequent domestic violence of which Northumbria Police were aware. The suspect JA was arrested by police in September 2016 for an offence of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm against his partner DB. Following his arrival at the police station JA suffered a seizure and was taken to a medical facility. He was thereafter released under street bail without any conditions being imposed. A few days later JA discharged himself from the medical facility and returned to the home he shared with DB. Upon his return to the property a further incident occurred in which DB suffered an assault from JA which proved to be fatal. JA was later convicted of manslaughter.  The family of DB instructed us to pursue a claim against Northumbria Police for breach of their ECHR rights as implemented by the Human Rights Act 1998 arising from the death of DB.

Within the claim allegations were made that police officers had notice of the potential risks to DB as a victim of domestic abuse but failed to take sufficient measures to protect him. None of the allegations were accepted by Northumbria Police and the civil case proceeded to a Court trial. After hearing from the representatives of both parties at the trial unfortunately the trial Judge did not accept that in the circumstances there was sufficient evidence of a risk to DB’s life, or sufficient evidence of a risk DB would be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. The case was therefore unable to proceed further. The outcome of the trial was obviously very disappointing for the family.

On reflecting on the above case, it is disappointing to note that a similar incident has occurred with the same police force following a further arrest and release in September 2018. It remains to be seen whether the actions of police officers in Kay Richardson’s case will also be challenged through civil proceedings.

Blog by Katy Stephenson, Solicitor