Gracie Spinks' parents speak of hurt over Derbyshire Police investigation and "lack of remorse"

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Richard Spinks and Alison Ward – the parents of Gracie Spinks – have spoken of their hurt and anger over Derbyshire police officers’ failures during the lead-up to her death.

This week an inquest jury found said Derbyshire Constabulary made “serious failings” while investigating the case of stalker Michael Sellers before he killed Gracie on June 18, 2021.

Five officers – including three police constables and two sergeants – failed to follow force stalking-specific risk assessments and conducted limited investigations, the inquest heard.

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Twenty-three-year-old Gracie’s initial complaint against Sellers was closed after he was given “words of advice” by a PC and after being considered by her sergeant for “20 minutes”.

Richard Spinks and solicitor Sajad Chaudhury at the conclusion of the inquestRichard Spinks and solicitor Sajad Chaudhury at the conclusion of the inquest
Richard Spinks and solicitor Sajad Chaudhury at the conclusion of the inquest

While a bag of sinister weapons accompanied by a strange note found near to where Gracie was stabbed to death just weeks before was closed by another sergeant as “lost property” with no investigation.

During the three-week inquest jurors noted multiple basic policing failures after hearing evidence from the five officers.

Speaking to Derbyshire Times after the inquest, mum Alison Ward said: “We’ve watched five officers give evidence and none of them has showed any remorse at all – they’ve all tried to squirm out of their role and blamed somebody else.

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"The worst part (of the inquest) for me was the lack of remorse – the five officers just sort of squirming out of the role they played in the failings of the policing.

Richard Spinks and Alison Ward at their daughter's graveRichard Spinks and Alison Ward at their daughter's grave
Richard Spinks and Alison Ward at their daughter's grave

"Instead of just saying ‘yeah, we failed’ they seemed to try to squirm out of it and blame each other. That was the worst.”

Gracie’s father Richard Spinks added: “I think the police’s behaviour had been disgraceful, it’s appalling really, the lack of action. Not following procedures.

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"They just didn’t seem to want to investigate anything. They just wanted to shelve it and get on with the next job.

Derbyshire Constabulary has admitted Gracie Spinks was "failed"Derbyshire Constabulary has admitted Gracie Spinks was "failed"
Derbyshire Constabulary has admitted Gracie Spinks was "failed"

"There was no common sense, no basic policing.”

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On January 4 Gracie, 23, saw Sellers parked outside Blue Lodge Farm where she kept horse Paddy.

After she reported him to bosses at Markham Vale e-commerce form Xbite dismissal proceedings were started against the 35-year-old warehouse supervisor, who had stalked eight previous colleagues.

Weeks later, during a 101 call to police she told a call handler how Sellers was appealing against his dismissal, that he was being a “complete weirdo” and she “worried it might happen to someone else”.

Speaking about the police contact that followed, Alison said: “As parents, we thought Gracie was doing the right thing when she rang 101 to report Michael Sellers – little did we know that, actually, no investigation was going to take place at all.

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"No notes, just nothing done at all. Just a brief meeting with him 11 days after Gracie had spoken to the police in a car park.”

The inquest heard PC Sarah Parker, who took no notes while speaking with Gracie and did not retain footage of “words of warning” she gave Sellers, missed “red flags” contained in Sellers’ work disciplinary file, which she never requested.

Alison said: “At every point they’ve just wanted to close it down. They spoke to Michael Sellers in the morning and it was closed down by early afternoon.

"When they went to Xbite, all they did when they got there was ask for Michael Sellers’ contact details.

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"They didn’t ask to look at his record with HR and see all the other information from the other women – seven other women from Xbite alone.

"To go and meet him in a car park and him then tell the police ‘I’m in a relationship’ - that should have just immediately thrown a red flag up.

"Clearly they weren’t in a relationship."

On May 6, 2021, six weeks before Gracie was killed, a brown Nike ruck sack was found by dog walker Anna White on a farm track near her Duckmanton home and metres from where Gracie was found.

Inside it were two large, sheathed hunting knives, a smaller folding knife, an axe, some jogging bottoms, a water bottle with the words “nothing worth having comes easy” written on it, a blister pack of Viagra and a note reading “don’t lie!”.

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PC Jill Lee-Liggett, who was dispatched with a fellow officer to investigate, retrieved the bag without visiting the location where it was found and took it to Clay Cross Police Station.

She told jurors she thought the contents were for “theatrics” or “props for sex”, while a sergeant who told her to close the case as “lost property” said he thought the knives and axe discovered were intended for chopping wood.

A Marks and Spencer receipt linking Sellers with the bag was also not investigated.

Alison said: "Anna White did the right thing. She found what she thought was a very, very sinister bag of murder weapons.

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"She rang 101, the call handlers took it very seriously, the police came out, didn’t take it seriously.

"The bag was found at tea time and taken to Clay Cross Police Station and it was shut down.

"The police officer stood there, including the sergeant, looked at all those weapons laid out on the table, including Viagra, and a note saying ‘don’t lie’ .

"And they didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about – even more worrying, they’ve actually stood in this coroners court and said they spoken to higher rank officers who all said ‘we’d have done the same with the bag’.

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"You could forgive one officer but’s just a catalogue of errors.

"I cant get past the bag and what they didn’t do, I really can’t. They soon traced the bag once Gracie had died from the receipt to that household.

"Why couldn’t that have been done when it was handed in by Anna White?

“It’s been a bit of an eye-opener because there was no investigation with any of it at all – even from Gracie’s initial stalking complaint.

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“It’s been traumatic, listening to officers’ evidence and the lack of basic policing – each officer has given evidence and the next one is worst than the first one. It’s been terrible.

"The standard of policing falls well below the standard of what, as the public, we expect.”

Sajad Chaudhury, a solicitor representing the family during the inquest, said the investigation had not met even “basic” standards.

He said: “The one thing that is clear is the Spinks family are not trying to hold the police to a high standard.

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"What they’re looking at is officers giving evidence on very basic policing that’s written in their manuals and they’re just not following anything.

"And that is the problem when you’ve lost someone and you’re watching an inquest where officers have completely disregarded basic, 101 policing.

“The issue for Derbyshire Constabulary is if one officer had been under the spotlight and made a mistake it would be allowed, it happens.

“But this was officer, after officer, after officer in a rush to finalise the investigation but not prepared to do the work to find out where evidence was pointing.

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"And to put a bag full of weapons in found property, I think forces across the country reading that would be shocked.

"There’s a cultural problem across the board in Derbyshire – it’s not one officer. It’s a force-wide problem.

"They need to overhaul their system completely and start again.”

Speaking about the evidence given by the five officers, Sajad said: “They were playing table tennis between the officers and the constabulary and we were the captive audience watching the constabulary blame the individual officers and the individual officers saying ‘we’ve had no training and it’s the constabulary’s fault.

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"But how does that help the family who are sat there, who are the real victims.”

Since Gracie’s death her family has been campaigning for Gracie’s Law to see stalking advocates in post across all UK police forces.

When the inquest concluded this week Coroner Matthew Kewley said he intended to raise the issue of stalking advocates across the country in a report based on the jury’s findings.

He added: “I will fine-tune where to send that report over the next few days.”

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Richard said: “The inquest has concluded some things for us but no we want to continue with our cause of making some changes across the board for all police stations with Gracie’s Law.

"We proved that the police made mistakes and they’ve admitted that, so we hope with all the publicity we’ve generated that police forces will be more open to looking at how they do things.”

More information on Gracie’s law is available HERE.

Detective Superintendent Darren De’ath, commenting on the conclusion of the case, said: “During the inquest it has been clear that there were significant failures throughout both Gracie’s report of stalking and the way in which the finding of the bag of weapons was dealt with.

“Put simply, as a force we failed Gracie - and for that I can only offer my own, and the force’s, most sincere apologies.

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“We have now heard the conclusion of the jury – who we thank for their time and dedication in hearing the evidence and considering it so closely – and we accept these fully.

“We await any further recommendations that may come from the Coroner and will review these in due course.

"But I want to be clear that, since Gracie’s death in June 2021, significant work has already been completed to tackle the failures that were identified prior to the inquest.

“There has also, over the last two-and-a-half-years, been significant changes to the ways in which we as a force receive and investigate stalking reports – as well as how we support and safeguard victims of these crimes.

“However, none of this seeks to minimise the failings that we have seen in this case and the force fully accepts the failures that were part of this most tragic set of circumstances.”