The family of a young woman murdered by her ex-boyfriend have been working with Northumbria Police to develop a training package on stalking and harassment which has now been shared with other forces.
Alice Ruggles, 24, was killed at her home in Gateshead by Trimaan Dhillon, known as Harry, in October 2016.
The pair had been in a relationship for a number of months but following their break-up the British Army soldier continued to bombard her with messages.
Alice reported this activity to Northumbria Police and when Dhillon continued to contact her she again called the Force.
Five days after this call she was found dead at her home, having been attacked with a knife.
Dhillon, 26, was identified as the suspect and arrested before being jailed for life last year.
Northumbria Police referred the case to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) and today (Wednesday), as their findings are published, say lessons have been learned with officers receiving enhanced training based around Alice's story.
Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon explained Alice's family helped to develop the training, including featuring in a video, which is so impactive it has been shared with other forces across the country. The training has also been delivered to partners in the region to enhance understanding and support for victims.
She said: "This is a tragic case which saw a young woman with everything to live for killed by her calculated and callous former boyfriend.
"Since Alice’s death it has been recognised nationally that changes need to be made in how police respond to reports of stalking and harassment to ensure officers understand the heightened risks associated with stalking behaviour.
"With the help of Alice's family, who I have to commend for their continuing dignity and determination, significant improvements have been made in the way we deal with these types of offences.
"Their support and input has been vital in developing training that is now being used by other police forces and partners and for that I can't thank them enough.”
Following Alice’s death, a national report – Living in Fear – highlighted both police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service needed to do more to respond to stalking and harassment.
Northumbria Police have implemented an improvement plan to address issues raised as part of this wider review and also created a pilot project concentrated on cyber stalking.
In relation to Alice’s case, the IOPC has highlighted failings – including the decision to record the unwanted attention as harassment rather than stalking.
Following further unwanted communication Dhillon was not arrested, with the onus for this decision placed upon Alice. The Force accepts the responsibility for making such a decision should not sit with the victim.
As a result of the IOPC’s findings, a PC and sergeant have received words of advice and completed the enhanced training developed in conjunction with the Ruggles family.
A performance meeting has been held with a further PC.
The investigation also looked into the actions of the first call handler who spoke with Alice but they have left the organisation.
Assistant Chief Constable Bacon said: "I want to reassure our communities that improvements have already been made in how we deal with stalking and harassment.
"The onus for making an arrest should never be placed on the victim. I am absolutely committed to ensuring we have a ‘victim focused’ culture embedded across Northumbria Police. What I mean by that is, we must recognise someone who is vulnerable may not be the best placed to make a decision over what is the best course to take, and when it is right to do so that must not stop us pursing appropriate action.
“Our number one priority is to protect those in our communities who are vulnerable and we are committed to ensuring we continue to improve how we deal with these types of offences.
Alice's family have set up a charity in her name and are campaigning for new legislation around stalking.
Parents, Clive Ruggles and Sue Hills, described their daughter as a 'fun and caring person with an amazing sense of humour'.
They said: "We have never wanted this to be turned into a blame game. What has to come out of this is that lessons are learned, procedures improved, and training implemented.
“Together with her friends and her family, Alice was unaware that stalking was a crime and didn’t recognise the very real danger she was in. Because she left it so late to contact the police, they should have quickly identified the crime as stalking and reacted promptly and firmly.
“We also want there to be a big stigma about stalking in society. Even if it doesn’t lead to murder as it did with Alice, its impact is horrendous and we just want that to stop.”
They added they were pleased that the 'IOPC has acknowledged mistakes were made'.
"But, sadly, police response to stalking has been shown to be inadequate in almost every area of the country and Alice’s experience is not unique. It is vital that police and all areas of society take notice of this report,” they said.
"We have to encourage people to come to the police but when they do the police need to do the right thing. That is why we need more training and real change, not just within the police but within the CPS and the judiciary – we have to work with all of them to try and improve procedures."
Dame Vera Baird QC, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I continue to welcome the support the Ruggles family have given to Northumbria Police since the death of their wonderful daughter as the Force progresses in improving the service it gives to people who are harassed and stalked.
"It is imperative to intervene early and identify when someone is the victim of stalking and the heightened risks this offence brings.
"If anyone is worried that someone is being stalked, whether that be the person being targeted or a family member or friend, they shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help from our police force.”