Friday 28 October 2016

Woman called police nine times about husband's behaviour before he killed her

Published 07/04/2016 | 13:55

Police (Stock photo)
Police (Stock photo)

A woman killed by her estranged husband after he flouted court orders banning contact with her raised fears about his behaviour to police nine times in the months before her death.

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Anne-Marie Birch, 47, was strangled to death by 55-year-old Lee Birch while dog walking in a field near her home in Ramsgate, Kent, in November 2013.

Between September 2013 and the morning of her killing, Ms Birch had repeatedly raised concerns to police about the behaviour of her husband of more than 20 years.

In one exchange, Mrs Birch told officers he warned her to "sleep with one eye open" and he threatened to stab her through her heart but told her "you don't have a heart".

On another occasion, Birch stood outside a restaurant peering in as Mrs Birch, who ran a dog walking firm, dined with friends and her mother.

When an officer spoke to her later, Mrs Birch revealed that Birch told her he hoped she would die of cancer and that he wanted her to "die screaming".

A report published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Birch was handed both a restraining and non-molestation order.

But he flouted the orders time and again. The report detailed part of a conversation a clearly exasperated Mrs Birch had with police a month before she was killed.

She said: "I got the order against him, you know, it's with a power of arrest, but they said any, any time he contacts you, to phone and we'll get him arrested, but it's just not happening, there's nothing happening, you know."

Unbeknown to the call handler or Mrs Birch, Birch had earlier been arrested while parked in a pub car park and charged with breaching his non-molestation order.

But Birch carried on contacting her and days before he killed her, Mrs Birch called police reporting he was "stalking" her and quizzed her on whether she was seeing someone else.

Her final call to police came on the morning of her death to a trainee call handler. Mrs Birch reported being frightened after suddenly seeing Birch in her garden.

The report said Mrs Birch considered it the "last straw" and said he needed to be arrested. But important details of what she said were not accurately reflected on the record, it added.

Some "significant omissions" were made, including Mrs Birch being concerned about Birch following and watching her while dog walking, IPCC investigators noted.

That call was made at 8.32am. A member of the public called police at 2.04pm to report the discovery of a body in a field. It later emerged it was Mrs Birch.

Birch was jailed for life in April 2014. In its report, the IPCC said several of Mrs Birch's calls to police could have been handled better.

Problems included incorrect logging of calls and a lack of awareness among some call centre staff about non-molestation orders.

Some officers who spoke to her before she obtained a non-molestation order may have failed to identify potential offences by Birch, including threats to kill.

The IPCC said the failings by officers may have resulted in unsatisfactory performance procedures being brought against them.

But Kent Police has since addressed issues through "formal learning" and accepted 12 recommendations by the police watchdog.

Eight officers and three call centre workers should receive learning to prevent a repeat of the mistakes, IPCC commissioner Mary Cunneen said.

In a statement, Kent Police said some aspects of how they handled Mrs Birch's contact made for "disappointing reading".

The force said: "We aim to put victims at the heart of everything we do and clearly there were steps we could have taken to improve the service Anne-Marie received when she had concerns about her estranged husband's behaviour.

"As soon as it became clear there were areas needing improvement, those improvements were made and they have been in place for a significant period of time.

"We have agreed with the IPCC that eight officers and three force control room workers should receive some bespoke training to ensure we continue to provide a first-class service to the people of Kent.

"While Kent Police recognises it could have offered a better service to Anne-Marie, it became clear in our investigation that her estranged husband had a very determined and clear intention to do her serious harm."

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