Woman murdered by ex was let down by police, IPCC finds

Katie Cullen, 34, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in October 2009. Photograph: PA

The mother of a woman who was brutally murdered by her ex-partner after police failed to warn her he had a history of violence says they failed to protect her and left her vulnerable and unaware of the danger she was in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said on Wednesday that investigations into the killer’s previous crimes were inadequate and there had been a catalogue of inaction and missed opportunities.

Katie Cullen, 34, a senior nursing sister, was killed by her former partner Iman Saeed Ghafelipour, in October 2009.

Her mutilated body was found at her home in Reddish, Manchester, and the murder weapon, a bloodstained knife, was found in a plastic bag in a nearby car park. The bag also contained one of the victim’s eyeballs. Ghafelipour was subsequently convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Katie met Ghafelipour in March 2008 and had a six-month relationship which she ended. The following May, she began a new relationship and in June 2009, she and her boyfriend were approached by Ghafelipour in a McDonald’s restaurant. He attacked Katie and threatened to kill them both. Later that day, she went to her local police station to report the attack and threats. She was advised to go to another police station, where it would be treated as a priority incident.

The IPCC report found that follow-up action was delayed 26 times, before Katie made a detailed statement about the attack and threats to kill. Officers decided to make contact with Ghafelipour and tell him to leave her alone and that a referral would be made to the domestic violence unit. Having checked the police national computer (PNC) they advised her there were no “warning markers” against him.

After she left the station, officers checked the PNC again and found Ghafelipour was believed to have carried out two arson attacks on a previous girlfriend and made threats to her and her family.

The PNC stated there was not enough evidence to prosecute him. But the IPCC report found the investigation into the arson attacks was “inadequate, although police had little doubt he was responsible for the two attacks”. In particular, they found officers failed to properly investigate Ghafelipour’s alibi.

Officers decided not to pass on this information to Katie. At the time, they were not required to so, by policy or procedure.

The IPCC report says officers were influenced by her calm demeanour, but did not consider that her attitude may have been influenced by their lack of warning to her. In addition, said the IPCC, she was accustomed to dealing with highly stressful situations while remaining calm and professional in her manner.

Earlier in the relationship, Ghafelipour had stolen several thousand pounds from her bank account. Police agreed to her request to contact him and ask him to pay the money back. The IPCC criticised this decision, saying it gave Ghafelipour “power and control over Katie, who needed her money returned, and provided him with the opportunity for continued contact and ongoing harassment”.

The IPCC deputy chair, Rachel Cerfontyne, said: “Katie Cullen was brutally murdered. Her family have been devastated by their loss and are still struggling coming to terms with that. Not only did the police fail to help her, their actions may have given her false reassurance and in doing so increased her vulnerability.

“In my view, Katie was badly let down by Greater Manchester police. Our investigation has exposed a catalogue of inaction and missed opportunities. Katie and her family deserved better.”

Katie’s mother, Diane, said: “We are distraught at what happened to Katie and utterly appalled at the lack of care she received at the hands of GMP [Greater Manchester police] when she reported the threat to kill her and their decision to keep vital information from her. It is inconceivable to us that the two police officers concerned should protect her assailant, a man with a reported history of violence, rather than protect a vulnerable girl who lived on her own and who turned to them for help. Unbelievably, they actively encouraged him to go round to her house to repay an outstanding debt.

“But even worse, by withholding such information from Katie they denied her the opportunity to protect herself. She returned to her own home alone and vulnerable, ignorant of the dangerous situation she was in.

“Since Katie’s murder we have been plunged into unimaginable torture. There isn’t a day goes by I don’t think about her and miss her. She meant the world to me and my family. We all adored her and without her our lives can never be the same.”

The GMP issued a statement on Wednesday in which it said it accepted the IPCC comments that the investigations into allegations of arson in 2007 involving a previous partner of Ghafelipour were insufficient in depth and lacked the rigour they deserved.

DCS Paul Rumney said: “First and foremost this was the appalling murder of a young woman and our thoughts remain with her family … Domestic abuse is a complex and challenging issue to deal with and we take all reports seriously. We are developing better networks with agencies to share information and support people throughout the process. GMP is now more focussed on safeguarding, victim care, targeting perpetrators’ and proactively sharing information. This is reflected in the fact that tackling domestic abuse is now the force priority.

“GMP has implemented a range of initiatives to improve the quality of our engagement with victims, additional examples include the use of officers wearing body worn video to improve positive outcomes for victims. The IPCC’s report predates the recent re-inspection by HMIC into our response to domestic abuse. The indications from the re-inspection are that the force is making good progress but this in no way has been interpreted by GMP that the force can be complacent.

“There is still much work to be done to ensure that GMP’s response to the 65,000 domestic abuse reports per year are appropriately progressed.”

   
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