Po­lice in spot­light over woman killed by her stalker

Twelve days af­ter Alice Rug­gles told of­fi­cers of her con­cerns, she was dead

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Josh Hal­l­i­day North of Eng­land cor­re­spon­dent

It was just af­ter mid­night when Alice Rug­gles de­cided to call the po­lice. “Hi there, I just need a bit of ad­vice re­ally,” she be­gan, typ­i­cally po­lite and well man­nered. Her ex-boyfriend had hacked into her Face­book and emails, she said, and was bom­bard­ing her and her friends with mes­sages.

Ear­lier that night he had turned up out­side her flat in Gateshead, driv­ing 120 miles from Ed­in­burgh to wait near the front and back doors, leav­ing flow­ers and choco­lates on her win­dow ledge be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing.

“He’s not done any­thing, but I’m con­cerned,” Rug­gles said. “My friends have been telling me to call the po­lice and I’ve been putting it off, but I just feel a bit shaken up tonight.”

The po­lice call han­dler ar­ranged for another of­fi­cer to take an of­fi­cial state­ment the fol­low­ing day. Rug­gles’s for­mer boyfriend, Tri­maan Dhillon, would be is­sued with a ha­rass­ment warn­ing known as a “po­lice in­for­ma­tion no­tice”, the call han­dler said, mean­ing that if he tried to con­tact her again he would be ar­rested. That, Rug­gles hoped, would put an end to it.

Twelve days later, the 24-year-old was found mur­dered on her bath­room floor. Her throat had been cut. Dhillon, 25, was quickly iden­ti­fied as the chief sus­pect and ar­rested. He was jailed for life with a min­i­mum of 22 years in April for what the judge called “an act of ut­ter bar­barism”.

This week, a year af­ter the mur­der, the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Com­plaints Com­mis­sion (IPCC) launched its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Northum­bria po­lice’s han­dling of the case amid se­ri­ous ques­tions about the events that led to that night, and wider con­cerns that the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is fail­ing vic­tims of stalk­ing and do­mes­tic abuse.

Rug­gles, a Northum­bria Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate who worked as an of­fice man­ager for the broad­caster Sky in New­cas­tle, met Dhillon – who was known as Harry – through a mu­tual friend while he was serv­ing in Afghanistan with 2 Scots, the Royal High­land Fusiliers. They de­vel­oped an in­tense re­la­tion­ship over the in­ter­net, meet­ing for the first time three months later in Jan­uary 2016.

The re­la­tion­ship soon turned sour. Rug­gles’s friends said the pop­u­lar for­mer pub­lic school­girl lost her con­fi­dence as Dhillon made nasty com­ments about her ap­pear­ance or her go­ing out with friends. She lost weight, stopped ex­er­cis­ing and be­came alien­ated from them. Pho­tographs from a fam­ily hol­i­day in Corn­wall show her at her low­est. “In ret­ro­spect, when we look at the pho­tos, in some she looks just haunted,” said Rug­gles’s mother, Sue Hills, a teacher at Le­ices­ter high school for girls.

Rug­gles ended the re­la­tion­ship last Au­gust when she caught him cheat­ing with a woman he had met on the dat­ing app Tin­der. She was ini­tially hap­pier “be­cause she didn’t feel like she was trapped with him”, Hills said. How­ever, Dhillon’s ob­ses­sion with Rug­gles be­came sin­is­ter.

He hacked into her Face­book ac­count to mon­i­tor her move­ments, sent her plead­ing mes­sages and cry­ing self­ies, and asked her mother over so­cial me­dia to in­ter­vene. When he dis­cov­ered she might be start­ing a new re­la­tion­ship, he stalked her ground floor flat at night, ter­ri­fy­ing her. The fi­nal straw came just af­ter mid­night on 1 Oc­to­ber last year, when Dhillon drove the 240-mile roundtrip to her flat with flow­ers and choco­lates be­fore telling her in a voice­mail that he did not want to kill her. Rug­gles called the po­lice and Dhillon was is­sued with a for­mal ha­rass­ment no­tice. In her of­fi­cial po­lice state­ment the fol­low­ing day, she said: “I’m scared and ter­ri­fied of his ac­tions. I’m be­ing stalked and want it to stop.”

A few days later he sent her a par­cel of pho­tos and a plead­ing let­ter beg­ging her to take him back. Rug­gles called po­lice again on 7 Oc­to­ber and this time was asked whether she wanted him ar­rested. She de­clined, and no ac­tion was taken.

“We were par­tic­u­larly hurt by that,” Hills said, who thinks she was prob­a­bly scared of ru­in­ing Dhillon’s ca­reer. “The first time round it was like a weight had been lifted off her shoul­ders be­cause she gen­uinely be­lieved the po­lice could do some­thing to stop him stalk­ing her. She went from be­ing re­ally, re­ally un­happy and stressed to be­ing al­most back to her nor­mal bub­bly self. Then when the sec­ond call hap­pened she was dev­as­tated.”

Although she had said no to his ar­rest, Rug­gles told her house­mate she felt “palmed off” by the po­lice. She also told her sis­ter Emma: “They’ll re­spond when he stabs me.” Three days later Dhillon re­turned to her flat on a re­con­nais­sance, tak­ing a pho­to­graph of the bath­room win­dow where he planned to break in. Forty-eight hours later he was back, and this time put his deadly plan into ac­tion.

Two days be­fore she died, Rug­gles tele­phoned her mother to say she was still scared af­ter her sec­ond call to the po­lice. “I said to her: ‘The po­lice know what they’re do­ing. You’ve just got to keep ig­nor­ing him and he’ll even­tu­ally leave you alone.’ Ac­tu­ally, that was a bad thing for me to say,” said Hills, who has said she will for­ever feel racked with guilt about not tak­ing Dhillon’s threat se­ri­ously. “We felt there was some sort of man­age­ment go­ing on and that was how the po­lice were deal­ing with it.”

The fam­ily later dis­cov­ered that po­lice had pre­vi­ously given Dhillon a re­strain­ing or­der for ha­rass­ing another ex-girl­friend. It re­mains un­clear whether the sec­ond po­lice call han­dler was aware of Dhillon’s pre­vi­ous or­der. A Northum­bria po­lice in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not find any ev­i­dence of mis­con­duct by an in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cer.

Rug­gles’s par­ents, who have set up the Alice Rug­gles Trust to raise aware­ness of stalk­ing, said they were “very dis­ap­pointed” with the force’s in­ter­nal in­quiry and felt their daugh­ter’s case had been badly mis­han­dled. Hills said the fam­ily did not want to “pin blame on in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cers … that misses the point that stalk­ing is not dealt with cor­rectly at a much higher level than that”.

She added: “What about the peo­ple who were su­per­vis­ing those of­fi­cers? What about the pol­icy of Northum­bria po­lice? Why wasn’t that looked at? Those were the things that we were par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­pointed about in the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We looked at it and thought: the worst thing is that the next Alice that comes along is go­ing to get the same treat­ment, and then there’ll be another per­son mur­dered.”

I’m scared and ter­ri­fied of his ac­tions. I’m be­ing stalked and want it to stop

pho­to­graph: PA

Alice Rug­gles was found dead in her bath­room. Her for­mer boyfriend Tri­maan Dhillon was jailed for mur­der af­ter CCTV showed him driv­ing away from the scene Main

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