IOPC investigation finds police missed opportunities to safeguard murder victim
A pensioner who was murdered by a man staying at his home uninvited could have been saved had police not missed several opportunities to safeguard him.
Graham Snell is thought to have been killed a day after he visited a police station to tell officers that a man named Daniel Walsh was staying at his home uninvited and had stolen cash from his bank account.
Following this initial visit on June 19, 2019, Derbyshire Constabulary did not run checks which would have revealed that Walsh was wanted for robbery. Mr Snell, aged 72, disappeared shortly afterwards and his dismembered body was later found in various locations throughout Derbyshire.
Walsh, 30, was subsequently arrested and convicted of murdering him. He is serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 27 years.
An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that the inquiry officer who spoke to Mr Snell at the station treated the incident as a case of anti-social behaviour, although noting that verbal threats had allegedly been made by Walsh and that Mr Snell feared he might be harmed. The inquiry officer and a police constable assigned to visit Mr Snell did not record an offence or carry out checks at that time, which would have shown Mr Walsh was wanted and had a history of violence, including violence towards Mr Snell.
There was no answer when the constable went to Mr Snell’s address on June 20, and he was then de-assigned from the incident. The job remained on a tasking list but the IOPC found that due to a systemic error, the constable’s supervisor and the control room, which assigned the officer, both thought the other was dealing with it.
This led to the incident being overlooked until it was randomly audited on June 29 by a control room supervisor. It then took a further 26 hours to deploy officers although the incident was graded as a priority following checks revealing Mr Walsh’s history.
On June 30, the constable who had originally been allocated revisited Mr Snell’s home, hours after a neighbour had reported concern over not seeing him for more than a week.
IOPC Regional Director Derrick Campbell said: “My sympathies are with the family of Mr Snell and all those affected by his death in the most harrowing of circumstances.
“Our investigation indicates that individuals and the systems used by the force did not recognise or respond appropriately to the risks in this case. There were safeguarding failures and the opportunity to intervene promptly and effectively before Mr Snell was murdered was missed.
“I am pleased that the force has accepted our learning recommendations designed to add clarity around the supervision, tasking and resourcing of incidents to avoid confusion over who is responsible for doing what, and to improve processes and training for carrying out risk assessments and safeguarding vulnerable people.”
Both the initial inquiry officer and a member of police staff were found to have a case to answer for misconduct, but both resigned during the course of the investigation meaning no further action can be taken.
The IOPC also found that the constable who was originally tasked with following up Mr Snell’s report had a case to answer for misconduct for not recording the alleged theft, not carrying out intelligence checks prior to going to his home on June 20 and not considering him as vulnerable.
It was agreed with Derbyshire Constabulary that this would be dealt with through management action supported by a detailed performance plan.
Another officer in a supervisory position has received further training in the management of incidents and tasking lists, although no case to answer for misconduct was found for their actions.
A number of recommendations have been made as a result of the investigation. One was that Derbyshire Constabulary standardises terminology within the local policing unit (LPU) and the control room for the lists of jobs to be managed and dealt with to avoid any confusion as to who is responsible for what.
Previously, the supervisors within both the LPU and the control room, and the officers within the LPU, referred to the lists by different titles, which caused confusion and led to one particular list not being monitored or managed, said the IOPC.
The IOPC further recommended that Derbyshire Constabulary introduces a policy and guidance for the management of the different lists of jobs, so supervisors are aware of their responsibilities in relation to them.
The IOPC found that the supervisors within the LPU were not aware of all of the different lists they were responsible for and therefore outstanding tasks were not viewed.
Another recommendation was that Derbyshire Constabulary clarifies and/or implements/formalises an escalation process when there are outstanding matters to be resourced.
At the time of the incident, the lack of such a policy meant that some staff members were informing their supervisors about outstanding tasks while others were not. As a result, this incident remained outstanding for 26 hours.
The IOPC noted that the force has implemented some fast-track learning around this issue but has asked for updates as to whether this has been successful.
The IOPC has also recommended that Derbyshire Constabulary implements a supervision policy around the closure of incident logs. It noted that in this particular case, two staff members were not clear as to who could close an incident where the original classification code was different to the closing classification code.