The family of a woman who was strangled after being left in the clutches of a convicted murderer plan to sue the police over a catalogue of blunders and are calling for a public inquiry into how forces deal with domestic violence.
Maria Stubbings, 50, was murdered by Marc Chivers at her home in Chelmsford, Essex, in December 2008. He had been freed from a German prison less than a year earlier, after serving 15 years for murdering his then girlfriend Sabine Rappold. Ms Stubbings' 15-year-old son Benji was left in the house with Chivers, unaware that he was in danger.
Police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has published a second highly critical report on the failures by Essex Police to protect Ms Stubbings and her son. Three officers are facing misconduct proceedings over the case, but the IPCC report found that it has implications for the whole force.
Benji Stubbings said: "It's horrific to discover the extent of the police's failings - and hard to understand how they got it so wrong. The risk to my mum and to me was clear. I didn't have a clue at the time how close to death I was. I don't want other women and other children to go through an experience like that. We're all equal - we all deserve help and protection when we're in danger - and they knew the danger."
Ms Stubbings had made repeated contact with the police about her ex-boyfriend Chivers - in April 2008 about a possible burglary and again in July that year when he assaulted her. The IPCC found that Essex Police initially responded well, installing a panic alarm in her house and putting high risk warning markers on the address. However their efforts and those of other agencies then failed - the alarm was removed and no risk assessment was made of Chivers despite the fact he spent four months behind bars because of her assault complaint.
On December 11 that year, he burgled her home, stealing medication on which she was dependent, but a police call handler took down her address incorrectly so the warning markers did not come up and the call was downgraded. When officers visited the house on December 18, Chivers answered the door to them and said Ms Stubbings was away and her son was out. They looked in her bedroom and left - not realising that her body was under coats in the downstairs toilet. The following day her body was found. Chivers was jailed for life in 2009 for Ms Stubbings' murder.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex Nick Alston said: "I feel immense sympathy for the family and friends of Maria Stubbings. The murder of Maria Stubbings was a dreadful and distressing crime. I respect and commend the determination of Maria Stubbings' family to challenge the first IPCC report into the murder. Their resolve has led to a second, and more thorough, IPCC investigation, which highlights a number of individual and organisational failures by Essex Police. It is now essential that we ensure the lessons of the failings identified by the IPCC have been learned by Essex Police and acted upon."
Mr Alston also expressed "disappointment" there was no national guidance on how best to deal with these crimes. He went on: "The IPCC has identified opportunities where Essex Police could have done more to safeguard Maria Stubbings. Tragically these opportunities were missed. Essex Police has made a number of significant changes to its policy and processes for managing domestic abuse since the murder of Maria Stubbings."
Essex Police said it accepted the findings of the report. Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh said: "A combination of factors including missed opportunities and organisational failures led to the brutal murder of Maria Stubbings. As a force we must never lose sight of the impact of her death at the hands of a violent offender and we must respond to the IPCC report in a positive way. We fully recognise that this is one of three tragic murders in Essex which has led to an IPCC investigation. We have taken on board the recommendations of those reports, many are already in place and work continues to improve the consistency of our response to domestic abuse.
"There is much being done, both internally, and externally with partners to combat domestic abuse in Essex. It is one of the biggest challenges we face - every day we deal with an average of 80 incidents, each one complex. Essex Police rightly dedicate significant resources to tackling this issue and our commitment to meeting this demand and keeping vulnerable people safe is unequivocal."