Derbyshire Police made “serious failings” over Gracie Spinks investigation, say inquest jury
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As the inquest concluded today family gathered outside Chesterfield Coroners Court dressed in purple hoodies in memory of the 23-year-old.
Saj Chaudhury, a solicitor who represented the Spinks throughout the case and speaking from outside the coroners court, said: police involved in the case "drove a coach and horses through the concept of basic policing and common sense".
He added: "Ignoring the risks, investigating absolutely nothing and recording absolutely nothing. They seemed to be in a rush to conclude their incompetent investigations.
"There were multiple officers who failed Grace and missed endless red flags."
However, recording the cause of Gracie’s death as a stab wound to the neck, the jury concluded that the failings did not contribute to her death – which was recorded as an unlawful killing.
After a day of deliberations at the end of over two weeks of evidence a “foreman” or representative of the jury said: “In April 2020 Gracie started employment at Xbite – her supervisor (Michael Sellers) started in 2015.
"They shared a brief friendship which was not romantic.
"On December 16, 2020 Gracie ended that friendship gently via text message. The supervisor abused his position at work by asking others to spy on her.
"On January 4 the supervisor parked in a layby opposite the field where Gracie kept her horse.
“Gracie reported this to Xbite and he was suspended – an investigation concluded direct and indirect harassment and abuse of power.”
Speaking about the police investigation that followed after Gracie complained about Sellers, the foreman said: “A limited investigation was conducted, a verbal conversation was had and the stalking case was marked as “low level risk”.
He added the jury had noted Gracie’s case should have been risk assessed by officers and passed to the more specialised “pubic protection unit”.
Speaking about Michael Sellers he said: “The supervisor’s disciplinary file should have been sought from Xbite and a warning should not have been given to the supervisor.”
Referring to the bag of weapons found on May 6 – just weeks before Gracie was killed nearby to the stables where she kept horse Paddy – the foreman said: “Officers should have conducted an investigation.
"They should have visited the scene and house-to-house enquiries should have been conducted.
"Checks should have been conducted on police systems and intelligence logs should have been submitted.
"Proper investigations should have happened to identify the owner of the Marks and Spencer receipt.
"The ruck sack should have been booked in as evidence.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
During the two-week inquest jurors heard how Derbyshire officers involved in the case – who made minimal records and in many cases failed to take any notes or save crucial video footage – classed Sellers as “low risk”.
While a ruck sack containing an axe, hunting knives accompanied by a chilling note found just six weeks before Gracie was killed just metres from the scene was closed as “lost property”.
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.
Chesterfield Coroners Court heard how Michael Sellers’ body was found 150 metres from where he stabbed Gracie to death on the same morning.
Gracie had first met Sellers while working at Markham Vale e-commerce firm Xbite during the pandemic.
She was told by another staff member that the dropout pharmaceutical science student had a “crush” on her and the pair met up several times for walks, visiting each other’s homes.
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 Sellers, 35, 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.”
On January 4 Gracie, 23, saw Sellers parked outside Blue Lodge Farm where she kept horse Paddy.
During a 101 call to police she told a call handler how Sellers was appealing against dismissal proceedings at Xbite, that he was being a “complete weirdo” and she “worried it might happen to someone else”.
She told the call handler: “I want him on file and for you to report it – work says this has happened before and this is the worst that’s happened.I’m worried if it happens to someone else it could be worse – he might actually kidnap someone.”
Jurors heard how the warehouse supervisor had previously harassed eight other women, all of them work colleagues and bosses at Xbite had previously disciplined him over his conduct.
However PC Sarah Parker, who investigated the complaint, felt requesting Sellers’ disciplinary file was “not proportionate” and deemed him “low risk”.
Instead, PC Parker – who took no notes during a 45-minute interview with Gracie – gave him “words of advice” when she spotted him in a car park, letting her body-worn camera footage of the conversation automatically delete when she went off sick with covid.
Worryingly, Sellers had told the officer he believed he and Gracie were in a relationship.
Her sergeant, Matthew Adams, later spent “20 minutes” reviewing the case before closing it, the jury heard.
He made the decision after an unrecorded “verbal” conversation with PC Parker – saying that after ensuring Gracie had been given "safety advice" the case was closed.
On May 6, just weeks before Gracie was killed, dog walker Anna White found a brown Nike ruck sack near her Duckmanton home and metres from where Gracie was found.
It contained 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!”.
PC Jill Lee-Liggett was dispatched to Anna White’s home the same day with another officer, retrieving the bag and again, taking no notes.
Entries in the police crime log indicated that after leaving Ms White’s home at 7.18pm, the case was closed as “lost property” by 8.05pm.
PC Lee-Liggett said that she thought its contents were suitable for “woodwork, theatrics or props for sex”.
After finding a Marks and Spencer receipt produced at a Crystal Peaks branch and her “investigative mindset” was sparked, she was told by her sergeant “why would you, Jill?”, said the officer.
The receipt which belonged to Sellers’ father – could have led officers to the home address which he shared with his parents, the inquest heard.
Tearfully, she added: “I was looking at the bag with the investigative mindset but I had in my mind, Jill, why would you? I was doing what I was told."
PC Lee-Liggett claimed her sergeant, Lee Richards, “had a good look at the bag and advised me to book the property in for destruction.”
Former sergeant Mr Richards, now retired, 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.”