Mother dies as police tackle youth

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The Independent Online
BY MOST people's standards Robert Tressle Walk, on the St Gilese estate in Lincoln, is not a nice place to live. There are more houses and flats with metal shutters than glass in the window frames. Many gardens sprout rubbish, rubble and supermarket trolleys.

Until 12 days ago, Rosemary Fyfe, 37, a mother of three, was among those who believed the estate to be safe. But Minie, as she was known to her friends and neighbours, died after being hit in the face with a lump of wood, probably a table leg.

What makes Mrs Fyfe's death extraordinary is that the person at the centre of the investigation is a female police constable.

The officer is on sick leave while a police inquiry by another police force takes place into the circumstances of Mrs Fyfe's death. She fell to the ground after being hit once and died in front of her two youngest children, Claire, 10, and Timothy, nine.

It was the latest and most tragic event on what is considered one of two "problem" estates in Lincolnshire. Residents describe a troubled atmosphere, with groups of boys and teenagers frequently taunting the police and flouting the law.

The events leading up to the fatal moment started in a grim, predictable way. A group of young teenagers began hurling stones through the window of a house, and shouting abuse at the resident. The woman living inside responded by threatening them with a carving knife. The police were called.

The young female police constable and her male colleague were the first on the scene. A small group of adults and children gathered to watch the entertainment.

Among the crowd was a 16-year-old boy - who was well known to the police - carrying a thick piece of wood. The officers attempted to handcuff and arrest the teenager, provoking anger among the residents.

More people came out of their homes to watch, including Mrs Fyfe, who was well known for her "loud mouth" and was considered a local "character".

She was only there by chance, having called into her home to check on two of her children before going out to play bingo. Her third child, Andrew, 14, was living with her former husband.

One of Mrs Fyfe's neighbours, a 25-year-old woman who asked to remain anonymous, said: "She was shouting and swearing - that was normal. She was the other side of the garden wall about three to four feet from the woman police officer."

Then, the eyewitness said, Mrs Fyfe was hit. "It was a good whack. I saw it. She is [sic] a big woman and she went down - she just slumped to the floor.

"The [officer] froze. People were spitting in her face and she didn't react.

"She had to be shoved into the police car by the other officer.

"She had spit all over her, I almost felt sorry for her.

"I kept going over to Minie, she was totally blue in the face. It was about 10 minutes after she had been hit. I said: 'I'm not being funny but she looks dead'."

Angela Pitchford, Mrs Fyfe's sister, said that Minie died in her arms. "She had some of her kids with her when it happened. They shouldn't see something like that," she said.

Several witnesses who spoke to The Independent confirmed the 25-year- old woman's story.

It is understood that other onlookers' statements to the inquiry, which is being carried out by Derbyshire Police and overseen by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), have said that the blow to Mrs Fyfe's head was an accident which followed a struggle between the policewoman and the teenager holding the piece of wood.

The PCA has already received 30 statements from witnesses and a further 30 from police officers.

The Home Office pathologist has yet to give a conclusive post-mortem examination result, but early tests are understood to show that the injuries to the face are consistent with being hit with a blunt object and that Mrs Fyfe is likely to have died from the effects of the blow.

Lincolnshire Police have refused to comment.

However, a spokesman for the Police Complaints Authority said: "The aim is to complete the investigation within three months."