Rachael Slack inquest: police failings contributed to deaths, jury finds — (The Guardian)

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The Guardian

Press Association

Tuesday 22 October 2013 15.18 BST

Failure to warn woman of threat posed to her and son by ex-partner ‘more than minimally’ contributed to their deaths

Failures by police before the killings of a woman and her toddler son “more than minimally contributed” to their deaths, an inquest jury has found.

Rachael Slack, 38, who was pregnant, and her 23-month-old son Auden were found with multiple stab wounds in their home in the village of Holbrook, Derbyshire, on 2 June 2010.

They were killed by Slack’s former partner and Auden’s father, Andrew Cairns, who had a history of mental illness. Cairns, 44, was found dead at Slack’s home after turning the knife on himself.

During the inquest at Derby and South Derbyshire coroner’s court, which began last month, jurors heard that Cairns had been struggling with declining mental health since the breakup of his relationship with Slack in 2009.

Shortly before the deaths he was detained by police after he made threats to kill Slack, and was later released on bail. His mental health had been assessed by professionals who ruled that he had no major issues and was not a danger to himself or others.

The inquest heard that Cairns, a former golf tutor, had been prescribed antidepressants, had been known to psychiatric services for a “considerable number of years” and had been assisted by a variety of mental health services.

Jurors were also told that following his contact with Derbyshire Constabulary, Slack and Auden were deemed to be at high risk of homicide.

The jury returned verdicts of unlawful killing in respect of Slack and Auden, and found that Cairns took his own life.

As part of their deliberations they were asked by the coroner, Robert Hunter, to consider whether it was more likely than not that a failure on the part of Derbyshire Constabulary made a more than minimal contribution to the deaths.

They found that Slack’s death was more than minimally contributed to by the force’s failure to impress upon her that she was at risk of serious injury or murder by her ex-partner.

In the case of Auden, jurors found that his death was more than minimally contributed to by the police’s failure to impress upon his mother that he was at risk of serious injury or murder, and failure to discuss with his mother adequate steps to assess the risk.

The inquest heard that Cairns was detained by police under the Mental Health Act on 26 May 2010 after Slack drove him to the police station because he refused to get out of her car and she was worried about his behaviour. He was assessed by mental health workers and released after he was found to have no major mental illness.

The next day Cairns was arrested after threatening to kill Slack. He was released on police bail on 28 May after denying the accusations.

The inquest heard that Slack told police Cairns had turned up at her house to play with Auden and said to her: “You are a fucking bitch for abandoning me and getting together with someone else and getting pregnant. I’ve given up everything to be with you. If you are going to make it difficult, I’ll make it more so – you’ve no idea of what I’m capable of. I’ll kill you and take him with me.”

As part of his bail conditions, Cairns was told not to contact Slack, and a file was forwarded to children’s social care by Derbyshire Constabulary’s domestic abuse unit. Police visited Slack at her home to discuss the incident and security.

The inquest heard that Cairns visited his doctor clutching a picture of his son hours before the killings on 2 June. Dr Michael Small, who was the duty doctor that day at Ivy Grove surgery in Ripley, said Cairns arrived in an “agitated and anxious” state.

Small said he had assessed Cairns on two previous occasions. Both times he had been contacted by the mental health team about concerns over Cairns. Small said Cairns calmed down during the appointment on 2 June and seemed “rational” for the rest of the appointment. He told jurors he had had no concerns that Cairns was a risk to himself or others, and the consultation ended on a “positive note”.

The inquest heard that Cairns had told Small during the consultation that the next few days were going to be “the most important days of your career”. Small said he believed Cairns was referring to contacting the press about his mental health care. “He apologised and said it hadn’t meant to sound like a threat. It was just important that I took him seriously,” Small said.

The coroner said he would write to the home secretary to raise issues over police powers to detain suspects in cases concerning violent or sexual incidents, national training standards in domestic violence for police, electronic document sharing and mutual disclosure of information.

Steve Trenchard, chief executive of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS foundation trust, said: “We would like to extend our sympathies to the family and friends of Rachael, Auden and Andrew for their loss of a loved one in this tragedy. We will assess the jury’s conclusions and coroner’s comments in more detail as part of our determination to be always changing, always improving, to meet the needs of the people of Derbyshire we serve.

“Immediately after this incident in 2010, we launched our own investigation into the full circumstances behind it. We developed and delivered a far-reaching action plan to improve the quality of our care and take it to new levels of best practice wherever possible.”