The Independent Police Complaints Commission found that organisational and individual errors resulted in an incident of potential domestic abuse not being handled correctly by Northumbria Police shortly before a woman was murdered.
Sarah Gosling, 41, was stabbed to death by her partner Ian Hope, 53, at their home in Tewkesbury Road, Lemington, Newcastle on 25 February 2012. Mr Hope was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Northumbria Police was aware of a history of domestic abuse in Ms Gosling's and Mr Hope's relationship and had dealt with those incidents in compliance with national and force polices and practices and in partnership with other agencies.
However the IPCC investigation found that a simple misspelling of a street name in 1999 would have profound consequences.
The Northumbria Police Integrated Computer and Communications System (NPICCS) is used by the force to monitor all aspects of information and intelligence relevant to police enquiries. In 1999 Mr Hope's Tewkesbury Road address was added to the system, but the road name was spelled incorrectly. As a result the system did not recognise it as being in the Northumbria Police area and therefore any data about Mr Hope was not linked to it.
Therefore while Mr Hope and Ms Gosling were both linked to a previous address in Roachburn Road there was nothing linking the Tewkesbury Road address to domestic abuse involving the couple.
Therefore when two officers attended a report of shouting and a large amount of papers being thrown from the property at around 5.40pm on 25 February the control room had no information to link the occupants of the address to domestic abuse. This was despite the catalogue of abuse logged on police systems.
The attending officers treated the incident as a report of anti-social behaviour and took no action other than to warn the couple about littering. At 8.05pm Mr Hope contacted Northumbria Police to report that he had stabbed Ms Gosling.
Although the officers who attended the earlier incident believed it to a straightforward case of anti-social behaviour they did not investigate the matter thoroughly. They did not ask for Mr Hope's name and although they had Ms Gosling's name they did not ask for a computer check to be run. If the officers had done this it would have automatically linked those names to the abuse history.
As a result of the IPCC investigation Northumbria Police took immediate steps to improve the provision and dissemination of intelligence via the NPICCS system. The two officers who attended the incident on 25 February have been given management advice over their failure to conduct diligent enquiries.
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 enquiries. 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.”.
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