Civil Liberties

Police chief apologises for ‘unconscionable and regrettable’ events after mother murdered by ex-partner when 999 call failed her

kerry power
8 min read time

The family of a 36-year-old mother who was strangled to death by her ex-partner have received a police apology stating the events leading up to her murder were “unconscionable and regrettable”.

On the night she died Kerry Power, a primary school assistant, dialled 999 as she had been told to do so by an officer who she had previously spoken to over concerns she was being stalked.

She believed that if she called the emergency number and remained silent help would still arrive, but the advice she’d been given proved to be tragically incorrect.

Devon and Cornwall Police’s temporary Chief Constable, Jim Colwell, has now written to Ms Power’s family to apologise.

In a letter he said he was “personally sorry” more was not done “to prevent this tragic occurrence”. Ms Power’s family has also been awarded an agreed compensation settlement following their legal action against the force.

‘What happened to Kerry could so easily have been avoided’

In 2016 with her ex-partner inside her home Ms Power called 999 but unknown to her, she should have then pressed ‘55’ for the ‘Silent Solution’ system, her call would then have been transferred to a police force as an indication of a genuine emergency.

As a result Devon and Cornwall Police were not notified of her situation and she was murdered at her home in Crownhill, Plymouth.

Her ex-partner David Wilder, who had a documented history of domestic abuse on police files, later called to confess he had killed her and is now serving a life sentence.

Ms Power’s family launched a civil action against Devon and Cornwall Police for a breach of operational duties under the Human Rights Act and the force has agreed to an out of court damages settlement.

Her brother, Steve Power said: “What happened to Kerry could so easily have been avoided if small steps had been taken; we hope those obstacles to getting the right advice have now been removed and lives will be saved in the future.

“If Kerry had known that she needed to press five twice, then help may have arrived in time for her to have survived the attack.

“Devon and Cornwall Police has already accepted culpability and this settlement and apology echoes that.

“The best we can hope for is that the force has now changed the way it deals with victims of domestic violence and has put in place safeguards to prevent it happening again.”

‘Personal written apologies from the highest-ranking officer of a force are very rare’

Ms Power’s family were represented by Iftikhar Manzoor of Hudgell Solicitors’ Civil Liberties Team, who said:

“There is simply no value that can be placed on Kerry’s life; it has been heart-breaking for all concerned to know that despite the fact she had been assured the police would come if she needed them, they never did.

“Personal written apologies from the highest-ranking officer of a force are very rare. Following her death police forces across the UK have reviewed their procedures about how they respond to domestic violence calls, and we hope measures have been taken to fully train officers so more deaths can be prevented.”

‘The events which led to Kerry’s untimely death were unconscionable and regrettable’

In the written apology to Ms Power’s family Devon and Cornwall Police’s temporary Chief Constable, Jim Colwell, said:

“The events which led to Kerry’s untimely death were unconscionable and regrettable, I am genuinely sorry that such a callous incident was able to take place within Devon and Cornwall. I am also personally sorry that the Force did not do more to prevent this tragic occurrence.

“I can assure you that the Force along with our Safer Plymouth partners are committed to ensuring report recommendations on public awareness of stalking and domestic abuse, and the specific risks posed to victims, are embedded in our communication approach.”

A Domestic Homicide Review, carried out following the murder of Ms Power, was critical of the way the force handled the case.

The police had a documented history of domestic abuse carried out by Wilder against Ms Power. The abuse included strangulation “which was near to the attack which killed her,” said the review.

In the month before Ms Power was murdered, Wilder arrived at her home late at night on four occasions.

Ms Power also reported two incidents of criminal damage, but a police officer advised her it was likely “random” and unrelated to her ex-partner.

When in December 2013 she found Wilder in her home she called 999 but being unresponsive to the operator she was not transferred to the ‘Silent Solution’ system. The system is intended to reduce the number of hoax calls and if a caller does not press 55, the system will instruct the operator to terminate it.

The review stated that this had not been explained to Ms Power and concluded “the police should have known about the operation of the Silent System”.

The Domestic Homicide Review also revealed that a week before Ms Power’s death a Devon and Cornwall Police officer had reviewed Wilder’s previous offending behaviour and recorded the current situation as ‘standard risk’, this was despite carrying out a domestic abuse, stalking and ‘honour’ (DASH) assessment.

The DASH risk checklist provides a tool for practitioners who work with victims of domestic abuse to help them identify those who are at high risk of harm.

The Domestic Homicide Review concluded the assessment “was clearly wrong” and “there was enough information to identify a pattern of stalking and escalating risk.”

In their civil action against the police Ms Power’s family alleged the force failed to implement its own risk assessment and stalking guide and it failed to provide adequate training on risk assessment in domestic violence, including harassment offences.

It also claimed the force failed to ensure adequate communication of the ‘Silent Solution’ phone system operated so that Ms Power was able to use it when she was at real and immediate risk of death.

‘No family should ever have to deal with a situation such as this’

In the letter of apology temporary Chief Constable, Jim Colwell, added:

“We hold what has happened in this case in mind in our communication campaigns as we want to help people feel confident to disclose, and for perpetrator friends and family to challenge or report risky behaviours. Public awareness around how to use the 999 system and the implications of the silent solution have also been built into our training and communication plans.

“No family should ever have to deal with a situation such as this. I know my words offer little comfort, but please believe they are genuine and heartfelt. I am truly sorry for your loss, and the continuing pain that you and your family are suffering.”

The force says it has now carried out a “complete overhaul” of how stalking and harassment reports are reviewed and managed within the control room, as well as mandatory training for all recruits.

Kerry’s brother Steve Power said, “Officers that have the responsibility of visiting domestic violence victims should now be aware of and have the tools to help, and importantly, victims too must be fully equipped with all the necessary information they need that could save their lives.

“We hope that can be a lasting legacy of Kerry’s death, that anyone who is in a comparable situation has the knowledge they need.”

Mr Manzoor, an expert in bringing claims against the police added, “We are pleased on behalf of the family that the case has been settled, it is a great relief to them that Devon and Cornwall Police has brought the matter to a conclusion so they can now start to re-build their lives.

“However, there were still 114 domestic homicides recorded by police forces in England and Wales in 2021 and we need to know that operational changes are effective and long lasting.”

In 2019, in response to Ms Power’s, death a national campaign to raise awareness of the Silent Solution system was launched by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

It acknowledged that although the system is well-established in the UK, it could only be effective if the public “know and understand how it works”.

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