‘They let her down’: Parents of woman killed by stalker condemn police who failed to investigate warnings

The 23-year-old had felt ‘protected’ after reporting her stalker, while officers failed to properly investigate Michael Sellers, Holly Evans reports

Thursday 16 November 2023 18:25 GMT
Audio recording of Gracie Spinks reporting Michael Sellers to police released

“They just let her down,” Richard Spinks said, after two weeks of gruelling evidence which laid bare Derbyshire Police’s failure to investigate his daughter’s suspected killer.

For the family of Gracie Spinks, the morning of 18 June 2021 had started no differently than any other, with their 23-year-old daughter travelling to a nearby stable to feed her beloved horse Paddy.

She would sadly never return home, after being stabbed 10 times with a knife and dying of “catastrophic” bleeding in a rural field.

Her former supervisor Michael Sellers, who she had reported for stalking five months previously, was found dead less than 150 metres away with self-inflicted wounds.

Alison Ward and Richard Spinks have said their daughter was ‘completely failed’ by Derbyshire Police

A knife was discovered nearby, as well as a suicide note in his bedroom, in which he said he could not deal with “all her lies against me”.

Disturbingly, a bag containing weapons, Viagra tablets and a note with the words “Don’t lie” had been found just over a month earlier near the stables at Blue Lodge Farm, yet officers had failed to investigate.

“It was a complete non-investigation, they didn’t look into anything,” her mother Alison Ward told The Independent. “We have no faith in Derbyshire Police whatsoever at all, they were so unprofessional in not following procedures and ticking the boxes, just a complete lack of training.”

An inquest jury – who wore pink and purple wristbands in Spinks’ memory – concluded that she was unlawfully killed by Sellers, and acknowledged that Derbyshire Police had admitted their failings in investigating the case.

Spinks was found dead in a field in the Derbyshire village of Duckmanton

Five police officers were referred to the Independent Office of Police Conduct for their involvement, with the Spinks family hoping to launch Gracie’s Law to improve stalking training for police forces after the many “red flags” were ignored.

Their “ambitious and friendly” daughter first met Sellers in April 2020, after obtaining a job at the e-commerce firm xbite. She was sadly unaware that he had a history of harassing and stalking women, and had been the subject of complaints from a number of colleagues in previous years.

After he expressed an interest, they met on a few occasions for short walks and went for a meal, before Ms Spinks ended contact in December 2020 after his behaviour began to turn “weird”.

It later emerged that he had been abusing his position to get younger employees to “spy” on her social media and her whereabouts, and had been watching her on company CCTV.

“The day she blocked him on Facebook and social media, he immediately sent her another friend request,” Ms Ward said. “She told me ‘it’s spooky, he must have been watching my Facebook account’.”

Spinks had reported Sellers to the police and warned her fears he could ‘kidnap’ someone

It wasn’t until 4 January 2021 that his behaviour turned more sinister, after she spotted him parked in a lay-by near her horse, causing her to phone her mother crying in distress.

She reported the incident to xbite and he was suspended and dismissed, although he informed the disciplinary process that he “thought Gracie had lied about the nature of the relationship between them”.

A month later, Ms Spinks reported her concerns to Derbyshire Police after being advised by her workplace and her mother.

In a 101 call, she told an officer that Sellers had become “obsessed” with her, and warned that he had a history of harassing women at her workplace.

She had phoned her mother ‘distressed and crying’ after seeing Sellers parked near her horse

“They have said that every time this has happened at work, it has got worse and worse, and I’m just worried that, you know, the next time it happens to someone else, it could be worse than just following me and not leaving me alone,” she told the officer.

“He might kidnap someone,” she warned.

Two weeks later, he was visited in a car park by an officer, who had no training from the force on stalking cases and was “effectively left to her own devices”. During the conversation in which he received “words of advice”, Sellers falsely claimed that he was in a relationship with Ms Spinks, but was still deemed low-risk.

“I just can’t believe that didn’t comment didn’t raise a red flag that something is not right,” her father said. The officer failed to fill in a key risk assessment form or request information from his former employer about previous incidents, as well as made no recording of the conversation and body camera footage was not saved.

“We just thought she’d be safe because the police were handling it and we forgot about him really,” Mr Spinks said. “Our faith in the police was that they were on the case and I think that’s what she thought.”

Michael Sellars had stalked and harassed multiple women before Spinks

Her devastated parents would only discover during live evidence at the inquest that Sellers had in fact harassed and stalked eight different women. He had created fake social media accounts, forced women to move jobs and addresses, and followed women home.

On 6 May, a local woman discovered a rucksack containing a number of knives, including an axe, overlooking where Spinks had been tending her horse. Two police officers and a former sergeant who had investigated the bag of weapons told the inquest that they had assumed they were bushcraft or woodwork tools, and decided against investigating further.

They failed to visit the scene, took no notes or recordings and failed to make a list of the bag’s contents at the station. An M&S receipt found in the bag would later be traced to Sellers’ family home.

Her parents would only learn about the bag of weapons after it was posted on Facebook the day that she was murdered, which her father described as a “devastating blow”.

Her family are now campaigning for improved financing and better training for police to deal with stalking cases

Giving evidence at the inquest, retired police sergeant Lee Richards said he felt a “fool” and wished he could “change the past”, while the two officers were served misconduct notices at a disciplinary hearing.

Both Mr Spinks and Ms Ward are now hoping to change the way police forces across the country approach stalking cases, and are campaigning for dedicated coordinators to assist cases with additional funding.

A petition for Gracie’s Law was debated in Parliament after reaching 100,000 signatures in January 2022, yet her parents are hoping to work with local MPs and the Suzy Lamplugh to implement mandatory stalking advocates in each of the UK’s 43 police forces.

“Gracie was the life and soul and energy of our house. She would always be singing, playing music and having fun with us all,” her mother said.

“Now we have silence in our house and the heart of our family has been ripped out.”

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