Police force made multiple errors after stalking allegation ahead of woman’s death, inquest concludes

UK

An inquest has concluded Derbyshire Police made several errors in its “limited investigation” into a stalking allegation in the months before a woman’s death.

However, jurors were prevented from deciding whether the failings contributed to Gracie Spinks’ death.

Following the inquest, Ms Spinks’ family said Derbyshire Police had let her and them down, while the force said that it fully accepted the findings of the jury and had made “significant” changes.

The 10 members of the jury, who wore pink and purple wristbands in Ms Spinks’ memory, concluded the 23-year-old was unlawfully killed.

She was last seen alive by her mother on 18 June 2021 when she left the family home in Chesterfield to drive a few miles to Blue Lodge Farm stables in Duckmanton.

Half an hour later, she was found unconscious at the stables with a fatal stab wound to the neck.

The body of 35-year-old Michael Sellers, who she first met in 2020 when he was her former supervisor at a warehouse where she had a temporary job, was discovered in a nearby field a few hours later.

He had left a note saying he “could not deal with all of her lies”.

During the inquest, a coroner said this was one of “various pieces of evidence” that Sellers had killed Ms Spinks and then taken his own life.

Months before her death, Ms Spinks had reported Sellers to their employer and the police for stalking after he became infatuated with her and turned up at the stables in Derbyshire, where the keen rider kept her horse.

Ms Spinks had declined to pursue a relationship with Sellers after meeting him socially on a handful of occasions, the inquest heard.

But Sellers became “obsessed” with her and would repeatedly contact her, ask colleagues to report on her activity, and would “spy” on her on CCTV.

He was sacked when Ms Spinks reported him to their employer after he was seen waiting in a lay-by near Blue Lodge Farm in January 2021, after eight women previously reported his inappropriate conduct towards them.

However, Ms Spinks also contacted Derbyshire Police and the inquest concluded the force should have conducted a risk assessment when a stalking allegation was reported to them in February 2021, the force should have referred the case to the Public Protection Unit and employment records should have been sought.

Image:
Richard Spinks and Alison Ward speaking to Sky News about their daughter Gracie

A rucksack – later found to belong to Sellers – was discovered on a bridle path near Blue Lodge Farm in May 2021, which contained knives, a hammer, an axe, Viagra tablets and a note saying “Don’t lie”, but this was dismissed by police and no further action taken.

The inquest found that there should have been an investigation into the bag, including house-to-house enquiries and an examination of a receipt found in the bag.

The police had accepted multiple failings prior to the jury’s conclusion concerning their investigation into Ms Spinks’ complaint and their handling of the bag.

Returning their conclusion on Thursday, in which he referred to Sellers as “the supervisor”, the jury foreman said: “Derbyshire Constabulary had admitted the following serious failings.

“However, it could not be concluded that these failings contributed to Gracie’s death on June 18 2021.

“It was the supervisor that killed Gracie.”

Following the deaths, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigated five Derbyshire Police officers for misconduct.

Gracie was ‘loved by everybody that met her’

Richard Spinks, Gracie’s father, told Sky News that his daughter was “loved by everybody that met her”.

“She was one of those type of people that you thought, ‘I’d like to be with her again’. ‘I’d like to meet her again’.

“Just a lovely young girl at the start of her life that was just cut too short.”

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