According to a coroner, the lack of advocates in police forces throughout the UK creates a “postcode lottery” of support for stalking victims. This was highlighted after the death of Gracie Spinks.
A 23-year-old woman, named Spinks, was murdered in Chesterfield, Derbyshire by her coworker, Michael Sellers. Sellers had developed an unhealthy fixation on her after previously harassing multiple other women. On June 18, 2021, he followed Spinks to the field where her horse was kept and fatally stabbed her before ending his own life shortly after.
The police in Derbyshire have acknowledged several significant shortcomings in how they dealt with Spinks’s situation after she informed them of Sellers’s actions four months before her death. These errors included not asking for information from Sellers’s employer regarding previous complaints against him and not conducting a check on the national database, resulting in him being labeled as a “low risk” individual.
After investigating the circumstances of Spinks’s passing, assistant coroner Matthew Kewley has sent a letter to the home secretary, James Cleverly, expressing worries about the reliability and accessibility of stalking advocates in British police departments for aiding victims.
The speaker expressed relief that there are now stalking advocates in Derbyshire, but noted that other regions in the UK lack this support. This results in a situation where victims who report stalking to the authorities are subject to a geographical lottery.
Spinks’s parents, Richard Spinks and Alison Ward, said the coroner’s report was a “damning indictment” that “details the colossal failures and the many areas of concern that were sadly evident throughout the inquest”.
They said: “Even before Gracie’s tragedy the public trust in the police was hanging by a thread, after numerous scandals and systemic failings. Unfortunately after Gracie’s death, faith in the police has been entirely lost. Our grief will be ever present for life and continue long after the officers who failed Gracie have given evidence and left the court building.”
Kewley’s report on preventing future deaths highlighted several worries regarding Derbyshire police’s handling of Spinks’s stalking case. He called for improved training for officers, as well as stronger risk assessments and record-keeping. Kewley also noted a recurring problem with some officers’ ability to handle reports of potentially dangerous weapons in the community.
The police have previously expressed regret for not properly investigating a bag of weapons that was discovered near the location where Spinks was murdered six weeks later. It was later determined that these weapons belonged to Sellers.
The parents of Spinks stated that the home secretary should clearly convey to the chief constable the need for better policing standards. They also requested assurance that the recommendations in the report will be followed and that there will be oversight on implementation in all identified areas. They emphasized the importance of vulnerable stalking victims feeling safe and knowing that the police will listen, investigate, and protect them.