The children of a woman who was “tragically and savagely” murdered by a stalker are suing for damages.
Mary Griffiths, a “wonderful mother and a kind and thoughtful woman”, was dragged from her bed by John McFarlane, who was armed with an axe, and shot in the chest with a captive bolt gun used for killing cattle, the High Court in London was told yesterday.
Nicholas Bowen, QC, of Doughty Street Chambers in London, told Mr Justice Ouseley that McFarlane, who is serving a minimum term of 20 years, broke into her home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in the early hours of May 6 2009, where she was asleep with her three daughters, Jessica, 13, Hannah, 10, and Sophie, 9.
The slaughterman, then 40, had been stalking and harassing Griffiths, a 38-year-old fitness instructor, in the days before the killing and she had called the police at 5.56pm the day before.
“But for reasons that we will investigate in this trial they decided not to prioritise the call and did not attend,” Bowen said, adding that a second call made by a friend at 6.26pm informing police of the escalating situation was not picked up until the following morning.
“The primary responsibility was of course McFarlane’s but we say the murder was preventable,” Bowen said.
He added that if McFarlane had been detained on May 3 under the Mental Health Act, or proper steps had been taken by Suffolk police or Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust in line with their protective obligations under human rights law and the common law, the murder would not have occurred.
The case is due to last two days and will highlight a contested area of law: in what circumstances the police can be held liable for negligence.
Jeremy Johnson, QC, of 5 Essex Court chambers in the Temple, appeared for the chief constable of Suffolk. He told the court that the issue was whether the force’s officers or civilian staff knew or ought to have known on May 5 that there was a real and immediate risk to Griffiths’ life and, if so, whether they failed to take reasonable steps in response.
“The police have enormous sympathy for the claimants,” he said, adding that “they have a right to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, albeit, of course, nothing can begin to remedy their loss. However, it is respectfully submitted that they have not shown that the police acted unlawfully.”