Police left murdered woman without phone
A woman who was murdered by her ex-lover was left without means of calling for help because police had seized her phone days earlier, a report has said.
Katrina O’Hara’s mobile was taken to investigate her report of domestic abuse, eight days before Stuart Thomas stabbed her to death in January 2016.
She was left “afraid and vulnerable”, a report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found.
It said domestic abuse victims should always have a means of communication.
Thomas stabbed Ms O’Hara, 44, in the chest twice with a kitchen knife at her hair salon in Blandford Forum, Dorset, and was jailed for life for her murder in August 2016.
The married father-of-four already had a five-year restraining order for targeting another woman, it emerged in court.
His trial heard he became involved with Ms O’Hara in May 2015 but by the autumn she attempted to end the relationship.
Ms O’Hara had complained of feeling “unsafe” in the days leading up to her death, the IOPC – formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission – found.
Her phone was retained on 30 December 2015, following an incident four days earlier in which Thomas reportedly threatened to kill both himself and Ms O’Hara, the report said.
“Her family felt this increased the risk she faced, and it is clear she was left afraid and vulnerable by not being able to contact police immediately,” the IOPC said.
It added a national recommendation for all at-risk victims of domestic abuse-related crimes to be “immediately” given alternative means of communication had been accepted by police chiefs.
Recommendations had also been made to improve Dorset Police’s response to domestic violence and harassment, it said.
Allegations of misconduct were proven against two Dorset Police officers, while two others were dealt with for unsatisfactory performance.
However, the IOPC report found three officers, including an acting sergeant, had cases to answer for gross misconduct.
Another had a case to answer for misconduct, while the performance of two others “fell below the standard expected”, the report added.
Dorset Police said it had “taken careful account” of the recommendations and a “replacement telephone” was now being given to victims of domestic abuse who had their phones seized.
As a result of the IOPC investigation a detective constable was given a final written warning and a sergeant received management advice for not following procedures, the force said.
‘Shaken to the core’
A statement, released by Hudgell solicitors on behalf of Ms O’Hara’s three children Kyle Stark, 27, Dean Stark, 25, and 18-year-old Morgan O’Hara, said her children were “deeply upset” by the findings.
“They highlight that our mother’s death could have been prevented and this only makes our grief even harder to bear,” it said.
“Our faith in policing has been shaken to the core, but we’re speaking out not to criticise the police, but to call for change in how all police forces and other agencies handle domestic abuse.”
They also paid tribute to their “pillar of the community” mother who was also a grandmother of three.
Dean Stark told the BBC it was “shocking” that his mother had been left without a mobile phone.
His brother Kyle added: “We just want the nightmare to end so we can get on and remember our mum.”