Police 'could have saved mother and daughter'

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The Independent Online

A mother and daughter shot dead yesterday could have been saved by police, angry neighbours claimed as a double murder inquiry was launched.

Christine Chambers, 38, and her daughter Shania, two, were killed at their home in Braintree, Essex, early yesterday after a man was involved in a stand-off with police.

Mrs Chambers' daughter from a previous relationship, 10-year-old Chelsea, managed to escape and alert emergency services after her mother begged her to run.

Last night, a 50-year-old man, named locally as Shania's father, David Oakes, was under guard in hospital with a serious, but not life-threatening, gunshot wound. After police led him away from the house, an angry neighbour shouted at officers: "You knew this was going to happen, you could have stopped it."

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge conceded that a "number of incidents" involving the suspect and Mrs Chambers had been reported to Essex Police, and the force had called in the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which had already sent investigators.

Mr Beautridge added: "All people in this incident are known to each other. There have been an number of incidents where contact between the man in custody and Chrissie Chambers have been referred to Essex Police over the course of the last two years."

Mr Beautridge, who heads the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate, promised a "full and fundamental review of the circumstances surrounding this contact in order to ensure there is total transparency". He said domestic violence blighted the lives of many people and police took such incidents seriously.

The couple had been due to attend a family court hearing yesterday at Chelmsford County Court, where a case was listed under the names of David Oakes and Christine Chambers.

Officers were called to the address at about 3am and spent time trying to negotiate with the gunman through the letterbox. Tony Challis, a neighbour, said: "It was about 4.45am when we heard two gunshots from inside the house. We saw officers rushing through the door. Everybody was out on the street watching. We couldn't believe what was happening."

Ian Flitt, 50, the father of Mrs Chambers' daughter Chelsea, had run out of the house earlier and arrived at his home nearby in a distraught state, screaming: "He has gone mad with a gun". Chelsea later told her father that her mother had urged her to "run, save yourself". Police marksman stormed the house just before 6am but did not fire. They found the bodies of both mother and daughter and recovered a shotgun from the scene.

Mr Beautridge said: "I would like to pay credit to the daughter who left the premises, who I thought acted in an extremely brave manner in what must have been very, very difficult and traumatic circumstances for her."

Neighbours described Mrs Chambers as outgoing, friendly and devoted to her "lovely little girl". But one said: "She had called the police before on several occasions and there had been a lot of problems in the past. Like everybody, she had her ups and downs and we knew there were problems. We knew she was worried about what might happen to her and it seemed she was living in fear."

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "The IPCC has been informed of the case and two investigators have been sent to Braintree to get more information and assess the available evidence."