Essex Police criticised in report on Braintree double murders
ESSEX Police failed to act on murdered Christine Chambers' cries for help in the two months leading up to her death, a damning report has revealed.
Ms Chambers, 38, and her 2½-year-old daughter Shania were shot dead at their home in Bartram Avenue, Braintree, in the early hours of June 6 last year.
Her ex-partner David Oakes, 50, a former bouncer, was convicted of their murders and given two life sentences, with no chance of release, at Chelmsford Crown Court at a three-week trial in May.
Yesterday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) released its investigation into the case, which highlighted a systemic failure by the force in the run up to the double murders.
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"While we understand at times Christine could have been more co-operative with the police, we do feel that Essex Police could have done more to prevent the deaths," said her father, Ken Chambers, on behalf of her family.
"They should have taken greater steps to protect Christine. And we think that officers dealing with ongoing incidents should have been more aware of the history and should have identified the risks better."
He said his daughter should have had a panic alarm installed at her home.
The IPCC found between March 2009 and June 2011 a "catalogue of incidents" involving Ms Chambers and Oakes, of Steeple, near Maldon, had been treated "largely in isolation by officers".
The investigation identified 16 incidents between the pair in the two years leading up to deaths of Ms Chambers and her daughter.
IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: "The deaths of Christine and Shania Chambers are shocking to us all.
"It is impossible to say with any certainty whether, if individual officers or the force had done things differently, Ms Chambers and Shania would still be alive today.
"While individual police officers could and should have done things better, this is not essentially a failure of individuals, but a failure of systems."
The watchdog found Essex Police failed to recognised any pattern between the reported events and failed to identify or act on the "evident escalation" in Ms Chambers' calls for help in the eight weeks before her death, at a time when officers had been told her relationship with Oakes had ended.
"The investigation identified a lack of adequate training, insufficient resources allocated to domestic violence cases and poor oversight," added Ms Cerfontyne.
The report also revealed that Ms Chambers' fear of her violently abusive ex-partner was not taken into account as a potential motive for her not pursuing further complaints against him.
Ms Cerfontyne said: "This is a tragic and disturbing case and the investigation has identified several key issues which apply to many other cases where domestic homicide is the outcome.
"Many women are reluctant to pursue criminal proceedings against abusive partners, sometimes even to seek help at all. There are many reasons for this, and often it is fear that they will exacerbate the situation and increase the danger they face.
"Undoubtedly this poses significant challenges for the police and other agencies, but it is essential in these situations that everything possible is done to protect the victims and their children."
She said an apparent unwillingness to give evidence against a violent partner is often due to fear and is a sign of "vulnerability" and not "culpability".
The IPCC investigation also found that officers did not focus enough attention on Oakes himself and there had been inadequate steps taken to arrest him, even after he breached a non-molestation order granted to Ms Chambers.
They found that despite persistent warnings, the force's specialist domestic abuse investigation teams were poorly resourced and there was a substantial backlog in inputting violent incidents into their computer systems.
Ms Chambers' father Ken added: "We realise one evil man is responsible for taking Christine and Shania away from us. Not having them in our lives any more remains extremely difficult to bear.
"As a family, we would again like to thank you to all those, including friends and neighbours, who have shown us such support and kindness since the murders of Christine and Shania."
ESSEX POLICE SAY 'SORRY'
ASSISTANT Chief Constable Maurice Mason said: "On behalf of everyone at Essex Police, I extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Christine and Shania Chambers, who were brutally murdered by David Oakes.
"Essex Police accepts the findings of the IPCC report, and apologises for the failures identified there.
"Every police officer involved in the case of Christine and Shania is devastated by their passing. I, too, am devastated by their deaths. I became a police officer to protect the vulnerable, and to put criminals like Oakes behind bars.
"Essex Police is committed to working tirelessly to reduce the likelihood of tragedies such as this from occurring again.
"On that terrible night last summer, Oakes killed his former partner, Christine Chambers, and murdered his own 2½-year-old daughter, Shania, with a shotgun.
"The unbelievable inhumanity of these murders led Oakes to be sentenced to two whole-life prison terms – the most extreme punishment which the British judicial system can impose.
"You would think that a man capable of such horror would have a history of violence. Oakes did not: he had no convictions or cautions for violence.
"In fact, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has found that significant 'information concerning Oakes' violence towards Christine Chambers was not available to the police or social services'.
"The IPCC also stated that there was no information that Oakes had access to a firearm. Essex Police acts promptly and decisively whenever it receives credible intelligence about illegally-held weapons.
"Domestic abuse is a crime which blights our society.
"Dealing with domestic abuse is often complex and challenging, and places significant demands on the police and other agencies.
"In the last year, Essex Police assessed and managed over 32,000 incidents of domestic abuse. This means that around 88 domestic abuse incidents are reported to the force every day of the year. On a typical day, about a quarter of all Essex Police resources may be involved in investigating, assessing and managing domestic abuse cases."
He added: "Essex Police accepts the report of the IPCC and welcomes the recommendation that processes should be developed for better information sharing between police forces and agencies such as social services, courts and solicitors. This is particularly important in cases involving child custody proceedings, where allegations of domestic violence have not been reported to officers.
"It should be stressed that the IPCC investigation found that it is impossible to say with any certainty that, if the force had done things differently, Christine and Shania would be alive today. It also found no evidence of misconduct by any of our officers.
"Essex Police has conducted a meticulous review of our practices for managing and investigating domestic abuse cases.
"This review has led to an increase in staffing resources with 76 additional posts created in the force's Public Protection teams, including a dedicated Domestic Abuse Intelligence Team. This team is responsible for providing specialist advice and for gathering all available intelligence to assist front line officers responding to domestic abuse incidents.
The IPCC investigation clearly found that Essex Police has completed, or put in place, actions to strengthen its response to domestic abuse incidents.
"Most would say that a man who kills his former partner, and murders his own two-year-old daughter, has lost all humanity. Our courts have cast their judgement on Oakes. He will never leave prison. But the horror of the murders committed by Oakes stays with us all.
"As police forces, across the nation, we must do everything in our power to attempt to reduce the number of crimes such as this.
"Tragically, we will not be able to prevent every murder, but we must strive to do so.
"We owe it to Christine and Shania to learn everything we can from this highly distressing case.
"We also want and need the help of every resident of Essex.
"If you know that your sister, neighbour, best friend, is a victim of domestic violence, tell us.
"If you learn a man in the pub is boasting of illegally obtaining a firearm, we need to know.
"This information is crucial to the force making an accurate assessment of risk, and to take steps to protect the vulnerable.
"Domestic violence is a crime which stains our society, and Essex Police is committed to taking robust action to bring those responsible to justice."
OFFICERS CLEARED OF MISCONDUCT
THE IPCC investigation has cleared individual police officers of misconduct.
Five officers have instead been debriefed by a senior official on their future actions in similar cases.
But the murders of Christine Chambers and her 2½-year-old daughter Shania have compelled Essex Police to strengthen its response to domestic abuse incidents.
The IPCC has also urged Essex Police to work with Chelmsford County Court and Essex County Council, to share information in cases involving child custody proceedings.
The responsibilities of other agencies are being addressed separately by a Serious Case Review and Domestic Homicide Review.
-There was a failure by police to recognise any pattern or connection between the events being reported, and, in particular, there was a failure to identify or act upon the evident escalation in the number of Ms Chambers' calls to the police during the two months prior to the murders – at a time when officers had been told her relationship with Oakes had ended.
-Ms Chambers' fear of Mr Oakes was not taken into consideration by police as a potential motivation for her not pursuing complaints against him.
-Important information about David Oakes' violence towards Christine was known to agencies involved in the child custody proceedings, but either not known by police or not taken sufficiently into account in their risk assessments.
-There was little focus by police on Mr Oakes himself and inadequate action taken to arrest him at the earliest opportunity, when reports were made of him breaching a non-molestation order.
-Despite consistent warnings to Essex Police, specialist domestic abuse investigation teams were poorly resourced, and there remained a substantial backlog in inputting domestic violence forms on the force intelligence system.
-The case should have been dealt with by a multi-agency risk assessment conference, but was not referred to one, in part because the level of risk had not been assessed accurately, so it did not meet the threshold for referral.
Read the full report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission at www.ipcc.gov.uk