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Monday 22 September 2014

Woman murdered after police ignored domestic abuse history due to misspelling in records

Tom White

Published 12/12/2012 | 10:40

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A SIMPLE spelling mistake by a police force had "profound consequences" and was a "missed opportunity" in trying to prevent the murder of a woman suffering domestic abuse, an investigation has found.

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Today the Independent Police Complaints Commission has released a report into individual and organisational mistakes by Northumbria Police after the murder of Sarah Gosling, 41, in February.

She was stabbed to death by her partner Ian Hope, 53, at their home in Newcastle and he was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The report said that the force was aware of Hope's history of domestic violence but a misspelling of his address 13 years earlier on a police log proved disastrous when they were called to the house.

On February 25 two officers attended the property after a report of shouting and papers being thrown out of the window, but they left after taking no action and simply warning the couple about littering.

This was because the control room had no information to link the occupants of the address to domestic abuse, due to the error.

Less than three hours later Hope contacted the police saying he had stabbed Ms Gosling.

IPCC commissioner Nicholas Long said: "It is clear that Ms Gosling and Mr Hope were in an abusive relationship which ended in horrific circumstances.

"It is also clear that Northumbria Police were aware of the abuse and had been involved in measures with partner agencies to try to tackle it.

"It is therefore tragic that such an apparently simple error of misspelling a street name could undermine the positive work done by the police force and result in two officers not having the relevant information that might have assisted them to deal with one specific incident differently.

"But the lack of information undoubtedly dictated a certain mindset for the officers on that occasion and as a result they only identified the incident as being one of anti-social behaviour.

"This possibly resulted in their lack of diligence in making their inquiries. Tragically that specific incident was a precursor to Ms Gosling's murder.

"Although we can say there was a missed opportunity, we cannot speculate that if the officers had the information about the couple's history they would have identified an ongoing abuse situation and prevented the murder."

In a statement made in response to the report, Northumbria Police said there were lessons to be learned and they would take every step to avoid a repeat of what happened.

Supt Steve Wade said: "Our thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of Sarah Gosling following her murder.

"It is important to stress before the events of February 25 this year, Northumbria Police and partner agencies had striven to support Sarah and had taken action against Ian Hope.

"Ian Hope had been arrested on four separate occasions for assaulting Sarah Gosling before he murdered her, with every effort having been made to secure his conviction.

"However, the officers who attended on the evening of February 25 were called to a report of a neighbourhood dispute.

"Ms Gosling was calm and did not make any complaint of assault, which she had done in the past. The officers also spoke to Ian Hope separately.

"Even if the officers had been aware of the domestic abuse history, there was still no reasonable basis to arrest Hope given the circumstances the officers faced.

"We acknowledge there were some specific areas for improvement, identified by the IPCC, which were implemented at the earliest opportunity.

"There have been changes to the force computer system so the addresses of all high risk perpetrators and victims are 'flagged', so anyone attending an incident can immediately see any domestic violence history attached to an address, and not just to an individual.

"Clearly there were lessons to be learned and we have taken every step we can to avoid a repeat of this incident."

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