It was reported by the BBC on 12 September 2018 that Northumbria Police had apologised after the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) had stated two Northumbria Police Officers had cases to answer for misconduct and another had performed unsatisfactorily following the murder of Alice Ruggles in October 2016.
Alice Ruggles was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Trimaan Dhillon after he broke into her Gateshead flat in October 2016. He was convicted of murder in April 2017 and jailed for a minimum of 22 years.
It is understood Miss Ruggles was bombarded by Dhillon with phone calls and text messages together with unwelcome visits. It is reported on one occasion Miss Ruggles’ complaint of harassment to Northumbria Police was not recorded by the call handler. Northumbria Police did issue Dhillon with a Police Information Notice (PIN) for harassment, warning him he could be arrested if he contacted Miss Ruggles again. The PIN was not served by a Police Officer in person but instead by an Army Major at Dhillon’s barracks in Scotland – against national Police guidance.
Following a further report by Miss Ruggles she was asked by a Northumbria Police Officer if she wanted Dhillon arrested. The IOPC stated victims should not be asked such a question. Guidance states the decision to arrest lies with an Officer. 5 days after declining the offer of having Dhillon arrested Miss Ruggles was found dead.
Northumbria Police are reported to have stated “lessons have been learned” and that they have implemented an improvement plan.
The case has unfortunate similarities to the case of Julie Brown who on 19 April 2005 went into Gateshead Police Station and showed a Police Officer a number of letters written by her former partner Michael Forster from Prison. They included passages of a threatening nature. He explained he would be shortly out of Prison and in one letter stated “…so I think you and your boyfriend should start thinking about getting a new house. I will be paying you a visit about 2 o’clock in the morning. Because I could be standing over you in bed. …”. In another letter he wrote “…because I always said if I ever went to jail and you cheated on me there would be trouble…”.
Julie Brown complained the Police Officer to whom she reported the threats was dismissive. No action was taken other than to advise her of the steps she could take by way of a civil injunction. She was told to telephone the Police if Forster approached her.
On 3 June 2005 Forster was released from Prison. At around 6:10pm that day Julie Brown and her daughter were walking home from a neighbour’s house when Forster attacked her with a knife causing serious wounds to her face and the back of her head. Forster attacked Julie Brown’s mother when she attempted to intervene.
In November 2005 Forster was convicted of assault in relation to the attack. There followed a Northumbria Police investigation into their own Officers which concluded that an allegation of neglect of duty was substantiated against the Officer at Gateshead Police Station to whom Julie Brown reported the threats. The Officer resigned from Northumbria Police before any disciplinary proceedings could be finalised. Julie Brown subsequently pursued a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 seeking an award of damages based upon the failure of the Police Officer to protect her from the violent attack by Forster. Northumbria Police defended Julie Brown’s civil claim stating it had been brought outside of the 12 month time limit for Human Rights Act claims. A Judge at the County Court at Newcastle heard the issue and granted permission for the time limit to be extended allowing her case to proceed.
Earlier this year two victims of John Worboys were successful in civil cases against the Metropolitan Police after the Supreme Court ruled the Force had failed to carry out an effective investigation into the serial sex attacker. John Worboys was convicted of several sexual offences including one count of rape and five sexual assaults on women in London black cabs over a 6 year period. He was a London black cab taxi driver who picked up women as fares late at night and told them he was celebrating winning a large amount of money. He plied women with Champagne that had been drugged with sedatives and then sexually assaulted or raped them. A Court referred to significant errors by the Police in their investigation of John Worboys leading to him not being charged at an earlier date. John Worboys’ crimes continued and more women were attacked until he was finally charged and convicted.
There are serious lessons for Police Forces to learn if such Police errors are to be avoided in future and lives saved. Following her death Alice’s parents started the Alice Ruggles Trust www.alicerugglestrust.org. The Trust exists to raise awareness of coercive control and stalking and is a member of the National Stalking Consortium. The Trust strives to encourage victims to go to the police as soon as stalking behaviour becomes apparent and for the police to then act appropriately and decisively.
Blog by Richard Hardy, Partner