Police face criticism after woman is murdered

By Terri Judd
Tuesday 18 February 2003 01:00

A damning report has criticised Kent police for failing a mother-of-four believed to have been murdered by her husband after weeks of domestic abuse.

Michelle Fraser, 30, was beaten to death in front of her young son despite repeatedly asking for help.

Officers called at her Dover home six times. On the final occasion, in March last year, they found her strangled body.

Her husband Neil, pathologists concluded, killed himself the same day, though his body was only found in a nearby sewer two months later. He had been arrested for attacking his wife but bailed by police the day before the murder.

Yesterday a Police Complaints Authority report said the Kent force had failed in its "duty of care" towards Mrs Fraser. The investigation, led by Detective Superintendent William Rayner, of Hertfordshire Police, concluded that it would have been impossible to protect Mrs Fraser at all times, but highlighted a number of failures and criticised five officers in particular.

The report emerged on the day the crime reduction charity Nacro criticised the Government for giving little attention to domestic violence, which claims the lives of two women a week and accounts for about a quarter of recorded crime.

Spokesman Richard Garside said: "Many violent crimes that are committed behind a closed door and in private have received little attention. We need a shift in policy away from the assumption that every form of crime has a simple policing or criminal justice solution."

After the PCA investigation into Mrs Fraser's death, four officers involved in the case received strong words of advice for failing to conduct their duties in an efficient and appropriate manner.

A fifth officer received a formal written warning for failing diligently to investigate or supervise the allegation made by Mrs Fraser that her husband had made threats to kill her.

The inquiry also found there was an urgent need to review Kent Police's domestic violence policy and the way in which the force's special investigation unit operates to ensure the protection of vulnerable people in the area.

The report highlighted a failure by the council's housing department and NHS to share their knowledge of the Fraser family with the police. It recommended that the working practices between the departments should be reassessed.

Sue Swindell, a PCA member, said: "I sincerely hope that the steps undertaken by Kent will mean that such a tragedy can be avoided in the future."

Mrs Fraser was killed in front of her 11-year-old son Jamie. Her husband disappeared, sparking a police hunt which ended when his body was discovered by workmen in a sewer in nearby Whitfield.

Jamie and his two younger brothers, aged eight and nine, were taken into care while the oldest girl Charlotte, 12, went to relatives.

Kent Police Assistant Chief Constable Peter Philpott, said: "Improving the way in which we deal with domestic violence is one of Kent Police's highest priorities. We have made significant progress but there is still more which can and is being done.

"There may be unfortunate cases where we fail to meet our high standards and we apologise for that."