Murdered Linzi Ashton told police main suspect Michael Cope raped her two months ago

Mother-of-two was found beaten and strangled inside her own home

Crime Correspondent

Detectives hunting for the violent ex-boyfriend of a young mother found beaten and strangled inside her own home have confirmed that the victim had told them two months ago that he had raped her.

As police in Manchester launched a huge manhunt, senior officers said that Michael Cope, 28, had evaded “numerous” attempts to arrest him since Linzi Ashton reported the first of two violent attacks allegedly by her former partner at the end of April.

Miss Ashton, 25, a mother of two young children, was found dead at her home in Salford on Saturday afternoon with serious head injuries after a “sustained and vicious” attack, according to police.

She had been spotted out in public on the previous night until 2am after an attempted reconciliation with Mr Cope, the chief suspect for the murder, who has a history of violence and has served time in jail.

The police watchdog was called in yesterday as questions were asked about the level of protection given to Miss Ashton who reported that her former boyfriend raped her at the end of April, and then attacked her again in mid-May. Police said yesterday they last spoke with Miss Ashton five days ago when she sought to withdraw the allegations against Mr Cope.

The killing comes just a week after the force re-launched a high-profile domestic violence campaign to persuade women to come forward if they had fears of attack from their partners.

Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney, said: “I am not going to go into great detail about these offences or our involvement, suffice it to say Michael Cope was wanted in connection with these matters and numerous attempts were made to arrest him.

“Clearly he is now also wanted for murder meaning our involvement in relation to these earlier matters will rightly come under enhanced scrutiny and that is why we have made the referral to the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) and why we are also reviewing these matters ourselves.”

Mr Cope had a brief and acrimonious relationship with Miss Ashton, a barmaid. Police said that her report of rape and the second alleged attack were taken seriously but he was never arrested.

Police yesterday drafted extra officers into the area of Salford, Greater Manchester, and offered a £5,000 reward. They warned that anyone harbouring Mr Cope would be prosecuted. He has not been seen since the killing.

Superintendent Kevin Mulligan said: “He does have a history of violent and aggressive behaviour and he does represent a risk to the community.”

Miss Ashton’s body was found by a relative at the house at 6pm on Saturday. Her two daughters, Daisy, two, and Destiny, seven, were not there at the time. She had separated from the father of her children, Liam Grime, but they had remained on friendly terms, according to reports.

In a statement, the dead woman’s family said: “She was the most beautiful, generous, caring person anyone could ever wish to meet. She would never harm anyone and was always there for her children and family. When she walked into a room it would light up with her energy and love.”

Greater Manchester Police is one of four forces trialling ‘Clare’s Law’, which allows women to ask police to investigate the backgrounds of their new partners. The scheme was introduced following a campaign by the family of Clare Wood, who was murdered by her former partner George Appleton in 2009, who had lied to about previous convictions of harassment.

An independent report into the case had criticised Greater Manchester Police for “individual and systemic” failures during its inquiry into the murder. The force was seeking to persuade more women to come forward to use the scheme after an earlier take-up of the project.

The introduction of Clare’s Law was criticised by some campaigners saying that police needed to respond better to initial reports of domestic violence, rather than devote resources to an expensive, bureaucratic system that they said does little to remove women from abusive relationships.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: “It isn’t the disclosure, but the robust police response in the first place that’s going to keep women safe. We need to be investigating, arresting and charging vigorously in cases of domestic abuse.”

The charity has called for a public inquiry into the wider failings of the police response into cases of domestic violence.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones