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August 12th 2019

Inquests

The murder of Shana Grice: why police attitudes must change

Andrew Petherbridge

Andrew Petherbridge

Legal Executive and Head of Civil Liberties

The murder of Shana Grice: why police attitudes must change

Shana Grice was killed by her former stalker boyfriend in August 2016, despite repeatedly reporting her concerns to Sussex Police. Instead, officers gave Shana Grice a penalty notice for wasting their time.

Shana Grice was killed by her former stalker boyfriend in August 2016, despite repeatedly reporting her concerns to Sussex Police. Instead, officers gave Shana Grice a penalty notice for wasting their time.

Five months later she was dead, killed by her former boyfriend, Michael Lane.

Lane was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing Shana. At his trial, the judge, Mr Justice Green, was scathing of Sussex Police’s treatment of Ms Grice, saying:

“You jumped to conclusions.

“In other words, she was treated as the wrongdoer and having committed a criminal offence, and Michael Lane was treated as the victim.

“There was seemingly no appreciation on the part of those investigating that a young woman in a sexual relationship with a man could at one and the same time be vulnerable and at risk of serious harm.

“The police jumped to conclusions and Shana was stereotyped.”

I now act for Shana’s parents, Sharon Grice and Richard Green, in their fight for justice. It has, and continues to be, a long road to justice for them.

Sussex Police were subject to an Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) report, from which several learning recommendations were made, and they have made changes in response. But it’s too little, too late. The reality is that a young girl took her concerns to the police and instead of being protected was herself treated like a criminal.

Shana paid for the police’s prejudice and stereotyping with her life.

Stalking is a life-changing crime for its victims and as evidenced by Shana’s case, can lead to the most tragic of consequences if not tackled.

Unfortunately, cases of this nature are far more common than they should be. My colleague, Vicky Richardson, acts for the family of Katrina O’Hara. Katrina was murdered by her former partner in January 2016, like Shana, she had aired her concerns to her local police force in Dorset about threats being made to her by her former partner, Stuart Thomas.

Dorset Police were also subject to an IOPC report, where failings were identified, and officers faced misconduct charges. And again, like Sussex Police, the force made changes.

The same can be said of West Midlands Police in the case of Jacqueline Oakes, whose family I also represent.

Jacqueline, who had a long history of mental health issues, was found dead in an Edgbaston tower block in January 2014. She died from multiple blunt force injuries. Her former partner Marcus Musgrove was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in July 2014.

During the previous 10 months, a catalogue of verbal, physical and sexual abuse and harassment by Musgrove were reported by Jacqueline and her friends to West Midlands Police and various support services.

An IPCC (now the IOPC) investigation in 2017 found that Ms Oakes was let down by a raft of procedural errors and 19 police officers and staff were found to have a case to answer for misconduct.

In Shana’s case two police officers faced charges of gross misconduct: PC Mills, who has now resigned, was found guilty of gross misconduct for failing to adequately investigate a complaint made by Shana after Lane let himself into her house with a stolen key and entered her bedroom. Had he not resigned he would have been dismissed.

More worryingly, however, was the charge against PC Trevor Godfrey. It was Godfrey who concluded that Shana’s complaints were dishonest and shockingly issued Shana with a penalty notice for time wasting.

At a recent disciplinary panel, his charge for gross misconduct was downgraded to misconduct.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, at the disciplinary hearing, Shana’s parents were subjected to a character assassination of their daughter by Godfrey as he attempted to clear his name.

Speaking after the hearing, Richard and Sharon said: “Godfrey’s testimony only proved his discriminatory attitude, even accusing Shana of coercing Lane. We can barely believe what we have heard.

“To add insult to injury, we have been subjected to aggressive and bullying tactics from Godfrey’s representatives, yet we were the ones accused of trying to intimate him.”

Had Godfrey not retired, he would be allowed to carry on serving as a police officer. We need to ask ourselves what kind of message this sends to police officers about the way they treat victims? But, even more importantly, what message does it send to already afraid victims?

Yet there’s a scenario being repeated up and down the country even now, where victims of domestic abuse and stalking are characterised as criminals and troublemakers. They are often seen as “bringing it on themselves”.

There are some stark similarities between Shana’s, Katrina’s and Jacqueline’s tragic cases, namely: all three were women left vulnerable by men they had been in relationships with, all three went to the police for help and all three died in wholly avoidable circumstances.

All three also serve as a reminder to the police of their duty to protect the lives of those they are in contact with, no matter what the circumstances.

Not only should our police officers be held to a higher standard, deep-seated attitudes about victims and unconscious bias must be eliminated completely. Otherwise, tragic cases like Shana, Katrina and Jacqueline will continue to occur.

Andy Petherbridge is Head of Civil Liberties at Hudgell Solicitors

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