18 Oct 2011

Casey Brittle report damns Nottinghamshire Police

Home Affairs Correspondent

An investigation into the death of a woman at the hands of her abusive partner concludes she was “significantly let down by systemic failures within Nottinghamshire Police”. Darshna Soni reports.

Casey Brittle, who was 21 and from Nottingham, was murdered on October 2010 by her estranged partner Sanchez Williams in front of their two-year old daughter. Ms Brittle died from a series of injuries to her head, including a fractured jaw, cuts and bruising.

Ms Brittle had reported Mr Williams’ behaviour 11 times in two years.

Sanchez Williams was convicted of murder in March 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said alongside systemic failings within Nottinghamshire Police, there had been a number of failures by individual officers.

It said: “It is clear that a number of officers failed to perform to the level expected of them.

“This was born of a lack of knowledge and a willingness to accept the word of a woman who had suffered years of abuse when she said she did not want or need their help.

“As a result basic actions that may have helped others see the full picture of her suffering were not completed.”

Nottinghamshire Police said it “unreservedly accepts the recommendations of the report”.

Casey Brittle

Lessons not learned

The IPCC found that the force had not implemented changes as a result of an earlier investigation into a domestic violence incident in which a woman called Gail Hdili sustained serious injuries at the hands of her ex-partner.

The IPCC said “many officers” told it they were not aware of, or were unclear about, what to do when responding to domestic incidents.

A number of officers failed to perform to the level expected of them IPCC report

Further, the report pointed out the need to ensure officers were submitting risk assessment forms had been highlighted to the Nottinghamshire force in late 2009, following the IPCC’s investigation into the Gail Hdili incident.

The report said in the case of Casey Brittle, domestic abuse and child protection forms were not completed with the consequence that the force did not provide “sufficient support and safeguards to a vulnerable victim and her child”.

The repetition of these failures, the report said, indicates “the force’s efforts on this front were not sufficiently robust”.

The report noted: “The investigation was also advised that it is still not unusual for officers to fail to submit a child protection form.”

Poignant reminder

The IPCC said it was clear Nottinghamshire Police had given no consideration as to why Casey Brittle had frequently refused to press charges against Williams.

It said “little thought” had been given to attempting to prosecute Williams, a man with a history of violence, without the co-operation of Ms Brittle as a witness – despite there being independent witnesses to some of the incidents reported.

In a statement the force said: “Whilst awaiting the IPCC’s report, we took steps to completely revise our approach towards responding to, and identifying, incidents of domestic violence and abuse.

“This involved an overhaul of working practices, specifically in relation to the identification and management of the risks faced by victims.” It said Casey Brittle’s mother is appearing in a police training film about Casey’s death and the repercussions of domestic violence.

Nottinghamshire Police said: “There is nothing we can now do for Casey. But in her memory, and in order to provide the best possible protection for others who find themselves trapped in violent relationships, we can, and have, produced the most robust policy and approach in terms of positive policing.”

Concluding its findings, the IPCC said: “It is also tragic that it takes such a death to serve as a poignant reminder to all police officers and the police service, of the vital need to remain vigilant to the consequences of not taking positive action when dealing with domestic abuse.

“The facts of this case are particularly distressing as Nottinghamshire Police were given impetus to improve following the horrific attack on Gail Hdili. As we now know the changes that were so obviously needed then were not made.”

Lessons learnt
What powers does the police watchdog really have? This is not the first time that Nottinghamshire Police has been criticised for its handling of domestic violence cases, writes Midlands Correspondent Darshna Soni.

Two years before Casey Brittle’s death, the IPCC issued a similarly critical report over a case involving a woman named Gail Hdili. Ms Hdili had fled to Nottinghamshire from Yorkshire to escape her violent husband. But he managed to track her down, attacking her and leaving her blind in one eye.

And a few months after Casey Brittle’s death, the force launched yet another investigation into the way the Nottinghamshire force responded to Denise Skilleck. The 31-year-old was killed in March this year, again by a violent partner.

So what does it really mean for the IPCC to issue a critical report, if lessons do not appear to be learnt? I asked its commissioner, Amerdeep Somal, who told me it was “appalling” that Nottinghamshire Police had not implemented her previous recommendations following the Gail Hdili case.

I asked what, if any, sanctions can be applied. She replied: “We donâ??t make recommendations lightly.The purpose is to ensure lessons are learnt and the same mistakes aren’t made again. I will now have a watching brief over Nottinghamshire, as will the police authority, in challenging the force to make sure that lessons truly have been learnt.”

Nottinghamshire Police, responding to the criticisms, apologised to the victims’ families, saying in the past they had been in a “different place” but accepting there were “no excuses” and saying there were now sanctions in place.