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February 18th 2020

Inquests

Jury returns conclusion of unlawful killing

Vicky Richardson

Vicky Richardson

Senior Litigation Executive, Civil Liberties

Jury returns conclusion of unlawful killing

Bournemouth Town Hall: A jury inquest into the death of murdered hairdresser Katrina O’Hara has concluded. Late on 18 February, the jury returned a conclusion of “unlawful killing”.

Bournemouth Town Hall: A jury inquest into the death of murdered hairdresser Katrina O’Hara has concluded.
Late on 18 February, the jury returned a conclusion of “unlawful killing”.

Katrina, 44, was murdered by Stuart Thomas on 7 January 2016 at her hair salon in Blandford Forum, Dorset. Thomas was later convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 26 years in August 2016.

Statement from the family of murdered hairdresser Katrina O’Hara following inquest conclusion

Bournemouth Town Hall: A jury inquest into the death of murdered hairdresser Katrina O’Hara has concluded.
Late on 18 February, the jury returned a conclusion of “unlawful killing”.

Today, the coroner, Mr Brendan Allen, issued a Prevention of Future Deaths Report to the Minister of State for Policing asking the Minister to address four issues and learn the lessons of Dorset Police.

The four areas relate to:
– Ensuring that all at risk victims whose phones have been seized by police for evidence are given a replacement phone.

– In relation to the police’s NICHE computer system used to record all case information – used by 23 out of 43 police forces – all users are fully trained on its functionality including linking reported incidents.

– The classification of 999 calls and ensuring that all forces respond appropriately when first contacted by a domestic abuse victim and recognising that the victim may often have had to summon up courage to make the call.

– When assessing risk, to view the suicide risk of a perpetrator as a significant risk to the abuse victim.
Katrina, 44, was murdered by Stuart Thomas on 7 January 2016 at her hair salon in Blandford Forum, Dorset.

Thomas was later convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 26 years in August 2016.

The jury, sitting with coroner, Mr Brendan Allen, examined the failure of Dorset Police to investigate a breach by Thomas of his bail conditions by indirectly contacting Ms O’Hara on 4 January 2016.

The jury said: “It cannot be concluded that that this failure more than minimally contributed to Ms O’Hara’s death.”
Prior to Ms O’Hara’s death, her mobile phone had been removed by police to obtain evidence.

An earlier report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct found that she was left “afraid and vulnerable” as a result. It said that domestic abuse victims should always have a means of communication.

The jury said: “It cannot be concluded that the fact that Ms O’Hara did not have a telephone more than minimally contributed to her death.”

The family issued the following statement via their solicitors, Hudgell Solicitors: “This inquest has been another painful chapter in our beautiful Mum’s story.

It has been incredibly difficult to listen to some of the evidence over the past few weeks and we’re glad it is finally over.

“Having lived through our Mum’s fear and witnessed the police’s actions, we still feel that that there were some very serious failings in the way the police responded to our Mum.

We will always feel let down by them. However, looking back and criticising others achieves nothing. So, our focus is on how we can prevent such an awful tragedy happening to other families.

“We’re heartened that as a result of what happened to our Mum that Greater Manchester Police have changed their policy about mobile phones and stalking victims to ensure that no-one at risk is left without a phone.

We hope other forces will follow suit. And while we recognise that Dorset Police have made some changes as a result of our Mum’s death, we’re not convinced their policy is as straightforward as it should be.

“We’re also grateful to the coroner for issuing a Prevention of Future Deaths Report and we look forward to seeing how the Minister for Policing responds to this.

“As we’ve said before, our Mum’s case is not unique, and our only hope is that her death will serve as a wake-up call to the government and police forces across the country to not brush domestic violence issues under the carpet.

As a family we would like to urge anyone going through domestic abuse to speak out and seek help.

“We miss so many things about our Mum, her witty remarks, her out of tune humming and most of all her ability to always put her family first. We’re heartbroken that her grandchildren can’t experience the love that she showed us when we were growing up.

“It’s been four long years since Mum died and we now hope that we can move on positively with our lives away from court and in private. We want our Mum’s death to stand for positive change.”

Victoria Richardson and Alexandra Eldon of Hudgell Solicitors are acting on behalf of the family.

Victoria Richardson says: “Firstly, I’d like to pay tribute to Katrina’s family who have conducted themselves with quite dignity throughout this difficult process. It’s been a privilege to work for them.

“Katrina’s death has highlighted a number of systemic failures about the way police forces across the country handle domestic abuse allegations and, the removal of mobile phones from at risk individuals.

It’s is clearly time for consistent and systematic change.”

Hudgell Solicitors instructed Chris Williams of Garden Court Chambers.

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