Gracie Spinks: Police sergeant tells inquest he felt like a “fool” over weapons bag - marked as "lost property"
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Retired sergeant Lee Richards was on duty on May 6, 2021, when dog walker Anna White found the brown Nike ruck sack on a farmer’s track just metres from the Duckmanton stables where the 23-year-old was stabbed to death six weeks later.
Inside the bag 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!”.
The former officer, who left the force last year after 31 years’ service, said he believed the knives and axe discovered in the rucksack were intended for chopping wood.
However this week he told a jury at an inquest into Gracie’s death on June 18, 2021, he accepted it was “clear as day” that he didn’t give the bag’s contents “enough attention”.
Prior to Sergeant Richards’ evidence PC Jill Lee-Liggett described how, after finding a Marks and Spencer receipt in the bag with the credit card details of killer Michael Sellers’ father, her “investigative mindset” was sparked.
However, when she suggested inspecting CCTV at the Crystal Peaks branch where the receipt was produced, Sergeant Richards told her “why would you, Jill?”.
He then told PC Lee-Liggett and her colleague PC Ashley Downing to book it in as lost and found property.
The former officer told coroner Matthew Kewley when the constables brought the bag to the station for advice he may have been “a bit blindsided” by “personal experience”.
He said: “I think this is someone who has been in the countryside chopping wood. That’s something I had experience of.
“I don’t see how at the time it is a threat to anyone. It sounds so foolish when you look at it now, I admit that.
“It’s the location, it’s where it is, it’s in the middle of nowhere. If it was on someone’s doorstep that would be different. It is hard to look back now and think my thoughts were so wrong.”
The inquest heard entries in the police crime log on May 6 indicated that after leaving PCs Lee-Liggett and Downing left Ms White’s home at 7.18pm, the case was closed as “lost property” by 8.05pm.
Telling the inquest she found the contents “bizarre”, PC Lee-Liggett said the contents – including a note which read “don’t lie!” seemed suitable for “woodwork, theatrics or props for sex”.
Jurors at the inquest heard at no point during the investigation of the bag were any notes taken by officers Lee-Liggett or Downing and PC Lee-Liggett’s body-worn camera footage of her conversation with Anna White automatically deleted after 30 days.
Asked by Mr Kewley why he hadn’t ordered PC Downing and PC Lee-Liggett to go back out and try to discover more about the bag’s owner, Mr Richards said: “I don’t know, I wish I had. I wish I had.”
He added: “I thought it was found stuff. Everything in that bag you can buy in Chesterfield.
“At no time were my thoughts that this belongs to somebody that is going to do something really bad. Looking back now I wish I had a very different mindset. I can’t change the past. I wish I could.
“It sounds ludicrous when you look back. I know it does.
“The area is decent. Things like this don’t tend to happen here. Looking back I feel a fool, I do.”
Mr Richards accepted he might have been “a bit blasé”, but claimed colleagues, including his divisional commander, told him they would have acted in the same way if presented with the circumstances when he told them what had happened.
On June 18, 2021, Gracie was found at the stables with “lying on the ground”, having been stabbed, at around 8am. Paramedics battled to save her but she died half an hour later.
Pathologist professor Guy Rutty told the inquest Gracie had “10 stab wounds” caused by a “serrated” knife.
Her killer 35-year-old M ichael Sellars was found dead at 11am, 150 metres from where Gracie had been found – having taken his own life.
Chesterfield Coroners’ Court heard how various staff at the Barlborough e-commerce firm where Gracie and Sellers worked together had complained about the warehouse supervisor before he started showing an “interest” in Gracie.
Coroner Matthew Kewley told the court how in December 2020 Gracie “made it clear” to Sellers “that she did not want to continue meeting up with him”.
However the court heard he would “continue to try and engage with Gracie and would ask “other staff” for information about her.
The coroner said: “It would appear Michael Sellers had become obsessed and could not accept her decision.”
The inquest continues.