Police closed case of teenager who repeatedly reported stalker before her murder

Police closed the case of a “frightened” 19-year-old woman who had repeatedly reported her stalker without properly investigating before she was murdered, a disciplinary hearing has been told.

Shana Grice reported her ex-boyfriend Michael Lane to Sussex Police officers five times in six months but was fined for wasting police time.

On August 25 2016, Lane slit her throat before trying to burn her body.

He was jailed in 2017 for a minimum of 25 years.

Pc Mills – who resigned from the force last week – stood accused of gross misconduct after failing to “adequately investigate allegations of harassment and stalking” on two occasions just over a month before she died.

He denied the two allegations but after deliberating, the disciplinary panel found them proven and said his actions may have contributed to Ms Grice’s death.

The officer – known only by his rank and surname in a bid by lawyers to protect his privacy – did not attend the hearing and was not represented.

Ms Grice told the force she was too scared to leave her house as a result of Lane’s stalking, disciplinary proceedings at force headquarters in Lewes heard.

But days after her last call to police, she received a letter from the force saying the “case was closed”.

The force’s lawyer Louise Ravenscroft said, according to her friends, Ms Grice was “angry” and “could not believe they had dropped it”.

She added: “As a result, she never reported continuing complaints of stalking.

“Sussex Police did not receive any further calls.”

During the hearing, Ms Grice’s stepfather Richard Green wiped away tears as he heard the accounts Ms Grice gave to police.

Ms Ravenscroft said she had described to police how “frightened she was”, adding: “I’m scared even to leave my house. I have to look up and down the road before I even walk to my car.

“I have changed my route to work and he’s still following me.”

Housemates Angela Stebbings and Emma King told the force they believed Ms Grice had been stalked on a daily basis.

On July 9 2016, Ms Grice rang police after discovering Lane had stolen a house key and crept into her bedroom while she slept.

He was arrested but, despite there being a history of escalating reports of stalking and harassment, Mills as the investigating officer did not review notes on the case before questioning him.

Having served since 2003, Mills was an experienced officer in the investigations team and would interview suspects almost every day.

But he questioned him for just 12 minutes and did not ask him about past incidents, the disciplinary panel was told.

The day before, Mills even attended an interview training course which focused on stalking and harassment.

Ms Ravenscroft said: “It should have been fresh in his mind.”

Lane was cautioned and warned to stay away from Ms Grice.

During an interview with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), Mills said another case had been his priority during his shift that day.

Mills also failed to respond to reports made by Ms Grice days later on July 12, when she told police Lane had been following her in his car while she drove to work.

Ms Ravenscroft said: “Ms Grice never received a call back from anybody at Sussex Police after her latest contact. Pc Mills did not and no other officer contacted her.

“It is the force’s position that officers have a duty and responsibility to investigate fully all complaints, particularly complaints of domestic abuse and violence.

“He should have asked key questions.”

Mills told the IOPC he did not know why he never called her back.

He claimed he contacted Lane, but records showed it was actually Lane who called to speak to him and they did not discuss the matter, the panel heard.

When questioned, Mills admitted he had been “alarmed” by some of Lane’s behaviour and said his failure to properly question him had been an oversight.

He said Lane’s story had seemed “plausible” and he had provided a “reasonable excuse” for his actions, the hearing was told.

The hearing was told Mills said: “I thought it was just another domestic-related incident. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, at the time not knowing what he was going on to do.”

Ms Ravenscroft said the former officer failed to properly explain his actions and the decisions he made had a “devastating impact” on public confidence in the force.

Panel chairman Chiew Yin Jones said both allegations of gross misconduct were found to be proven against Mills and his action may have “ultimately contributed in the circumstances which contributed to the tragic death of Ms Grice”.

She said: “The former officer was not diligent in his duties.

“In his dealings with Ms Grice, the officer failed to recognise her vulnerability.”

Had he not resigned, the panel said he would have been dismissed from the force.

This is the maximum penalty a police misconduct hearing can impose.

He will be barred from ever working as a police officer again.

The family’s lawyer Andy Petherbridge, of Hudgell Solicitors, said: “It is clearly the right decision. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change anything for Shana and is too little, too late.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Sussex Police / PA Wire.