Police blunders that left stalker free to knife horsewoman, 23, to death
A YOUNG horsewoman was unlawfully killed by an ‘obsessed’ former work colleague after a catalogue of police failings, an inquest jury ruled yesterday.
Gracie Spinks, 23, was repeatedly stabbed in the neck by Michael Sellers as she tended to her horse in June 2021 – four months after she had reported the ‘complete weirdo’ to police for stalking, the court heard.
Sellers, who had been her supervisor at an e-commerce firm until he was sacked for stalking Ms Spinks, was found dead in the same village of Duckmanton, Derbyshire, later that day.
A coroner heard how six weeks before Ms Spinks was murdered, a dog walker found a rucksack on a farm track just yards away from the spot where she fell. The bag contained an axe, hunting knives, Viagra and a note that read: ‘Don’t lie.’
But the PC tasked with investigating the chilling find said she had ‘no blazing concerns’ over the Nike rucksack, and considered its contents were more likely to be related to a ‘sex act, theatrical performance, or woodwork’. The bag was subsequently filed as ‘lost and found property’. It was later discovered it belonged to Sellers.
The court heard that three months before the bag was found, Ms Spinks reported Sellers, 35, to police for stalking, but he was assessed as low risk, despite officers failing to make checks with his employer. Sellers was merely issued with words of advice, because his victim did not wish to pursue a prosecution.
The court heard the killer had previously harassed or stalked eight women at work.
The ten members of the jury at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court wore pink and purple wristbands in Ms Spinks’s memory as they handed down their conclusion yesterday. Multiple failings already admitted by Derbyshire police were referred to in the record of inquest filled in by the jurors, but they had been prevented by a coroner from deciding whether the failings had contributed to Ms Spinks’ death.
Referring to Sellers as ‘ the supervisor’, the jury foreman said: ‘It was the supervisor that killed Gracie.’ Following the inquest, Gracie’s parents, Alison Ward and Richard Spinks, said they were ‘appalled’ by the police’s ‘complete and utter failings’ in the case.
In a statement, Ms Spinks’s family said officers had ‘driven a coach and horses through the concept of basic policing and common sense, ignoring obvious risks... [and] missed endless red flags’.
They accused officers of giving ‘absurd’ evidence in court, adding: ‘If this is the prevailing culture of Derbyshire Constabulary, then this is not just a handful of bad apples but the entire rotten orchard.’
They called for forces nationwide to introduce standardised training around instances of stalking, with stalking advocates and co- ordinators, so that their daughter ‘did not die in vain’.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) previously found five Derbyshire police officers had a case to answer for misconduct over the failings.
The court heard that when Ms Spinks reported Sellers to police in February 2021 for following her, she warned ‘ he could kidnap somebody’ and described how Sellers had been sacked for harassing her at work.
The court heard he would repeatedly contact her, asked colleagues to report on her activity, ‘spied’ on her on CCTV, and told police he thought he was in a relationship with Ms Spinks. But PC Sarah Parker, who investigated the call, did not feel it was ‘proportionate’ to request information about Sellers’ behaviour from his employer. She told the court she had received no training around stalking.
The officer who investigated the weapons bag said she found no evidence of blood on the knives inside and classed it as ‘low risk’.
PC Jill Lee-Liggett, who is also a member of the GB women’s bobsleigh squad, did tell her sergeant that the bag also contained a Marks & Spencer receipt which they could use to track the purchaser down. But the court heard he replied: ‘Jill, why would you?’
The hearing was told the receipt would have led police to Sellers’s Sheffield address, which he shared with his parents.
At a disciplinary meeting held by the force following the IOPC investigation, two constables were found to have breached standards of police professional behaviour for duties and responsibilities, and received written warnings in relation to the failure to investigate the bag of weapons properly.
No action could be taken against a sergeant because he had retired.
Potential breaches of professional standards by a constable and sergeant were found not proven at a separate hearing.
Last night, the IOPC said its inquiries ‘highlighted failings and missed investigative opportunities’ by Derbyshire Police, including a failure to check Sellers against national databases and a failure to adequately explain why he was not arrested.
Detective Superintendent Darren De’ath, from Derbyshire Constabulary, said ‘significant changes’ had since been made to working practices around stalking.
He apologised, admitting the force had ‘failed Gracie’.
‘Missed endless red flags’