THE family of murdered Bury St Edmunds mum Mary Griffiths say they feel ‘let down’ by Suffolk Police and that her death ‘may have been prevented’, after an independent report highlighted failings.
The 38-year-old mum of three was shot with a cattle bolt gun in front of her daughters by stalker John McFarlane after he smashed into her home in Bull Rush Crescent with an axe and dragged her from a bed where she had been sleeping with her eight-year-old daughter.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission was called in to investigate Suffolk Police’s handling of a non-emergency call made by Ms Griffiths, at 6pm on May 5 2009, the night before she was murdered.
During the call, Ms Griffiths said she was ‘really frightened’ and that McFarlane, a work colleague at Bury Leisure Centre, had been acting ‘angry’ and ‘irrational’.
She said McFarlane was harassing her, that she had rejected his advances and that he had tried to commit suicide three days earlier.
Although the IPCC agreed with the police’s grading of the incident as grade three, non urgent, in its report published yesterday, it said it was wrong for the call taker to assess Ms Griffiths as not being in distress, as she had repeatedly said she was ‘really frightened’ and may have kept calm so as not to alarm her children.
The IPCC also said that an officer could and should have been sent to her home that same night. Instead, officers arranged to see her the next day. She was attacked at about 2.45am on May 6 and died 45 minutes later.
IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “While the call from Ms Griffiths was graded correctly, the police should have dispatched an officer to visit her home at the earliest available opportunity on the evening of May 5, rather than wait until the following day. Having studied the operational demands on police resources in the area that evening, we have determined it would have been possible for an officer to attend.
“However, sadly nothing in either call between police and Ms Griffiths made an urgent police response imperative or could reasonably have predicted what was so swiftly to follow. And it cannot be said that the attendance of a police officer that evening would have prevented Mr McFarlane committing the horrific crime he did.”
However, Ms Griffiths’ family feel her death could have been prevented. A statement from them said: “We, Mary’s family, feel let down by Suffolk Police’s failure to call to Mary’s house on the evening of Tuesday, May 5, 2009.
“As stated in the IPCC findings, Suffolk Police did have resources available to call to Mary’s house but failed to respond to Mary’s call. We feel if an officer had called to Mary’s house that evening as promised it is possible Mary’s death may have been prevented.
“We welcome the measures Suffolk Police have now put in place but nothing will ever compensate our family for the loss of our beloved Mary.”
Suffolk Police has since changed the way it grades calls. The IPCC recommended refresher training for call takers and dispatchers and said the police policy in force at the time for responding to grade three calls was too restrictive.
It also said that mental health issues should also be logged by call takers – McFarlane had previous contact with the mental health crisis team at West Suffolk Hospital less than a fortnight beforehand, while just three days before the murder, an assessment had decided against having him sectioned.
McFarlane is serving a minimum of 30 years having pleaded guilty to her murder.
Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, from Suffolk Police, said: “We fully accept the recommendations made. Prior to the completion of the IPCC investigation, Suffolk Constabulary took steps to make changes to the policies, procedures and training provision around the dealing of harassment calls.
“I would like to reassure people in Suffolk that all the recommendations have been taken on board and are being acted upon. We receive a number of calls reporting harassment on a daily basis – each one is carefully and individually assessed to ensure an appropriate police response.”
Chairman of Suffolk Police Authority Colin Spence said the authority accepted the recommendations of the IPCC and would monitor the progress made to address all of the recommendations made by the IPCC.
n A Friends of Mary fund set up for her three daughters now stands at £11,500.
Donations can still be made to account 71712888 sort code 40-15-22.