Police in spotlight over woman killed by her stalker
Twelve days after Alice Ruggles told officers of her concerns, she was dead
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
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