Maria Stubbings was murdered in December 2008 by Marc Chivers, an ex-boyfriend. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has had two attempts at investigating the conduct of the police in relation to this crime. Its second report was published today, 4½ years after the murder, 3½ years after Chivers was sentenced and nearly 2 years after it decided its first report wasn’t good enough. This piece reflects on some of the issues raised by this case.
Today, the BBC is reporting that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has published the results of its second investigation into the murder of Maria Stubbings; the first IPCC report was ‘shelved’ in 2011 due to ‘inaccuracies’.
The family of the murder victim is calling for a public enquiry into how cases of domestic abuse are investigated. Even a cursory analysis of the case will tell you why they are right to do so. In addition to those specific conclusions drawn by this more recent of the reports that relate to the failings of the Essex Police Force and individual officers, which this article does not concentrate on, the whole sorry tale brings to the fore many other matters of general and serious concern of which the following are but a small sample.
Maria Stubbings was murdered by Marc Chivers in December 2008. He pleaded guilty at his trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2009. The initial IPCC investigation commenced around the time Chivers was convicted and the first IPCC report was published at the beginning of December 2010. By June 2011 it became clear to the IPCC that the initial investigation had been inadequate. It was at this point that the IPCC embarked upon an ‘internal review’ in relation to the investigation. The second report was commissioned shortly thereafter, with revised terms of reference. That report is dated January 2013 and was published today, May 21st 2013. A number of questions arise immediately.
Why did it take 12 months for the IPCC to produce its first report?
The IPCC is, effectively, the means by which serious complaints over police behaviour and decisions are investigated. In essence, having replaced the Police Complaints Authority, it deals with police misconduct. Its remit is to investigate and report on the most serious potential failures within the police and, as such, has a responsibility to do so thoroughly, but also promptly and efficiently. Even in the most complex of cases, 12 months is an unconscionably long time for victims to await the pronouncements of the IPCC.
Why did it then take 6 months for the IPCC to identify problems with the initial enquiry and then a further 19 months for it to produce its second report?
If 12 months is too long for victims and the general public to wait for an IPCC report then 19 months is inexcusable. The victim’s family, which in this case include Maria Stubbings’s then 15 year-old son (who was alone in the same house as the murderer and, unbeknown to him, his mother’s body, for several days) has had to wait 4½ years from her murder for the IPCC to report.
It must also be noted that several police officers who were the subjects of the investigation have also had to wait this length of time before knowing whether they are to face any form of disciplinary procedure.
Why, when the recent report is dated 30th January 2013, is it only being made public now, nearly 4 months later?
Everyone will acknowledge that the family of the victim and those at risk of disciplinary action as a result of this investigation are entitled, for very different reasons, to be made aware of its conclusions before the general public. It is even understandable that those individuals might be granted some time to reflect and respond. Can those reasons be sufficient for yet further delay? Can there be any other excuse?
Where is the clamour for an improvement in this dreadful performance?
A Complicit Government?
Chivers was already a murderer before he killed Maria Stubbings. He lived in Germany, the son of a soldier, and served 15 years for strangling his then girlfriend and burying her in a shallow grave. He had been sentenced to life and was deported back to the UK on his release.
In England and Wales, a life sentence is just that, whatever the tabloids might have you believe. A minimum term of imprisonment is set at the same time, but this only fixes the earliest date that consideration can be given to parole. There is no automatic release at the end of any such initial period.
Even if parole is granted, all that means is that the offender is allowed to leave prison ‘on licence’. Any further offending behaviour is almost certain to lead to a recall to prison to serve the remainder of the original life sentence or another significant period of time at least.
This is relevant to Chivers because before murdering Maria Stubbings he was convicted of an assault on her. He was released on conviction due to the amount of time he had served in prison whilst awaiting trial. Had his first murder occurred in this country and had he, therefore, been sentenced here, that assault charge would have led to him being recalled to prison and he would not have been free to commit murder again 6 months later. Unfortunately, having committed his first murder abroad the mechanism described above – ‘life licences’ – was not in place.
This is what the new IPCC report has to say about life licences.
“This apparent legal anomaly led the IPCC to conclude that life licences should apply to offenders who return to the UK having served life sentences, regardless of the country in which the offence was committed or the life sentence served. This was raised with the Home Office in October 2010, and in December 2010, a formal recommendation was made that changes in legislation should be considered so that offenders, who return to the UK having served a life sentence in another country, would be made the subject of a life licence. This would enable appropriate restrictions and measures to be considered and implemented to minimise the risk of harm to others. The IPCC has sought regular progress updates from the Home Office since that time and have been advised that, ‘The Home Office and Ministry of Justice recognise that this is a complex area and are continuing to discuss the issue.”
The Mail Online reported on this aspect of the case as long ago as the initial trial in December 2009.
“Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said last night: ‘It seems extraordinary that European co-operation cannot be achieved on monitoring offenders who are deported after serving a prison sentence.
‘This loophole needs to be closed.’
The Ministry of Justice said the EU had adopted a system under which criminals could continue to be monitored when they were released and deported, but it was not yet being enforced in the UK.”
Delay would appear to be endemic in this area. What is there to be ‘discussed’ about this issue that takes 4½ years, with no sign of a conclusion?
It is commonly stated that every week in this country 2 women are killed, yes killed, not assaulted, by men they are or have been in a relationship with. Women’s Aid’s website is just one place to find such a statistic. This is not a minor problem yet it is met with responses from the police and politicians that are dilatory in the extreme. This is not good enough.
Educate yourself on this topic by visiting the IPCC website where you can find further details of this specific case. Write to your MP. Ask her or him why no action has been taken with regard to offenders from abroad who, if here, would be on a life licence. Ask why the IPCC is allowed, without apparent censure, to take so long to report. Ask anything you like, but ask! While you’re doing this, join in with the demand for a public enquiry into the handling of domestic abuse!