Police condemned for failing murdered woman

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The Independent Online

A police force has been strongly criticised for failing to protect a pregnant woman who reported an attack by her boyfriend six days before he murdered her.

Officers failed to arrest the violent boyfriend of Hayley Richards, 23, and one time they were called chose to help a dog rather than detain the violent suspect. Six days after Ms Richards asked police for help, her boyfriend, Hugo Quintas, 24, slashed her throat with a knife at her flat in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. The day before, police had questioned Quintas, who comes from Portugal, but they let him go.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has upheld two complaints by the family of Ms Richards against Wiltshire Police. Commissioners said there had been a systematic failure by the force.

Police chiefs nationally have been campaigning about the importance of tackling domestic violence and taking a tough approach against suspected offenders.

Ms Richards had contacted officers at Wiltshire Police in June last year and said she was "petrified" of Quintas, a factory worker, after he attacked her at her flat in Trowbridge. Police could have arrested Quintas on 7 June, when Ms Richards called to say he was in a pub in Trowbridge. But the IPCC found his risk had been assessed as "low" and managers were unwilling to divert officers who were dealing with a distressed dog in a car, and a driver suspected to be under the influence of drugs. When police eventually arrived at the pub he had gone.

A second opportunity was missed on 10 June, the day before Quintas stabbed Ms Richards to death. He had been stopped by officers in Trowbridge after they spotted the Rover car he was driving had a broken rear light. But despite still being wanted over the brutal attack on Ms Richards five days earlier, he was issued with a ticket and allowed to drive away.

The factory worker, who had only a provisional licence, had also been ordered to produce his driving documents after being flagged down by traffic officers. He failed to do so within the seven-day time limit, but no further action was taken against him.

Quintas was jailed for life last month in Bristol Crown court after being convicted of Ms Richards' murder and ordered to serve a minimum of 18 years.

The IPCC commissioner, Ian Bynoe, said Wiltshire Police's response to Ms Richards' report of a serious assault had "failed to give a victim of domestic violence the priority and protection she deserved".

The investigation identified "systemic failures" and also criticised police failing to be "conscientious and diligent in their duties". It did not find that any specific individuals had " seriously failed in their duty".

Mr Bynoe said: "We cannot say whether these lost opportunities led to her death, but our report has made recommendations to Wiltshire to ensure better procedures are put in place to give officers the training and information they need to protect victims of domestic violence."

The report recommends that an acting sergeant receives "words of advice" - a verbal slap on the wrist - over her conduct, and a civilian member of the crime scene investigation team be given a verbal warning.

Ms Richards' brother, Paul Richards, said: "We feel bitter and angry about the week before Hayley was murdered. We do feel that Wiltshire Police should change their policies and everything else to make sure no other family goes through what we have gone through."

He called for the force to react with greater urgency to reports from alleged victims of domestic violence, specifically recommending "a quicker response to phone calls and the prioritising of how they do certain cases".

Martin Richards, the chief constable of Wiltshire, said that he was " deeply sorry" for mistakes and "wrong decisions" made at the time and pledged that lessons would be learnt from the case.