A police force has said it failed a woman who was stabbed to death by a former colleague who had stalked her.
Derbyshire Police has apologised to the family of Gracie Spinks, after a jury at her inquest concluded she was unlawfully killed.
Michael Sellers murdered the 23-year-old in Duckmanton in Derbyshire on 18 June 2021 after she went to look after her horse. Sellers then killed himself.
“Put simply, as a force we failed Gracie,” Det Supt Darren De’ath said.
Several months before her death, Miss Spinks had made a report to police about Sellers being “obsessed” with her and waiting for her near to the same field where she died.
Two dog walkers also found a bag of weapons belonging to Sellers, but police did not investigate the bag and instead treated it as “found property”.
‘The supervisor killed Gracie’
Speaking after the jury gave its conclusion, Det Supt Darren De’ath said: “During the inquest it has been clear that there were significant failures throughout both Gracie’s report of stalking and the way in which the finding of the bag of weapons was dealt with.
“Put simply, as a force we failed Gracie – and for that I can only offer my own, and the force’s, most sincere apologies.”
The 10 members of the jury wore pink and purple wristbands in Miss Spinks’s memory.
Referring to Sellers as “the supervisor”, in their conclusion at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court, the foreman said: “It was the supervisor that killed Gracie.”
In their findings, the jury listed a number of failings by police.
However, the jurors said they could not conclude that these failings contributed to Miss Spinks’s death.
Five police officers received disciplinary action in the form of misconduct meetings.
Matthew Kewley, assistant coroner for Derby and Derbyshire, has said he will issue a prevention of future deaths report to the chief constable of Derbyshire Police, which will include his matters of concern and will ask the force to take action.
He said he would also issue his report at a national level, due to his concern about there being an absence of stalking advocates at other police forces.
The inquest has heard Miss Spinks met Sellers when she started working at Xbite, an e-commerce firm based in Chesterfield, while furloughed from her job as a swimming instructor in April 2020.
Sellers had been working there since 2015 and had previously given unwanted attention to seven other female colleagues, but Miss Spinks was not aware of this.
In their findings, the jurors said Miss Spinks and Sellers “shared a brief friendship which was not romantic”.
They said Miss Spinks had then “gently ended that friendship” on 16 December 2020.
“The supervisor did not accept Gracie’s decision,” the jury said.
“He continued to contact her and abused his position at work by asking others to spy on her.”
On 4 January 2021, Sellers parked in a layby near to where she kept her horse Paddy, which had “distressed and upset” her, according to the jury.
She told Xbite, which suspended Sellers and conducted a formal investigation, which resulted in him being dismissed.
Miss Spinks then phoned Derbyshire Police on 101 on 4 February 2021 to report Sellers.
The jurors noted her report was initially “marked as a real and immediate risk”, and an investigation was undertaken.
This resulted in a “verbal conversation” with both Miss Spinks and Sellers, and “the stalking case was closed down as low risk,” the jurors said.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigated Derbyshire Police over its handling of Miss Spinks’s case.
Its investigation highlighted several “failings and missed investigative opportunities” that would have been in line with police policy for dealing with stalking and harassment.
No risk assessment or safeguarding plan
No national database check on Sellers
No rationale provided for why he was not arrested once identified as a suspect
No written record of any consideration of a stalking prevention order
Police not requesting disciplinary investigation records, despite Sellers being dismissed from the firm where he and Miss Spinks worked, and allegations made by other female employees