A SPELLING mistake by Northumbria Police led to a "missed opportunity" in preventing the death of a woman who was stabbed to death by her partner.
The force made basic errors in its handling of the case of mother-of-two Sarah Gosling, an independent report found.
A failure to carry out simple background checks and the misspelling of a street name 13 years ago played a part in police visiting and then leaving Ms Gosling with Ian Hope just three hours before he killed her at their home in Tewkesbury Road, West Denton Park, Newcastle.
The 53-year-old had a history of domestic abuse against 41-year-old Ms Gosling, with “the catalogue of abuse logged on police systems”.
But despite the dossier of violence, officers attending their home on February 25 after reports of shouting and paper being thrown into the garden were in the dark over Hope’s explosive nature.
With Hope now serving 17 years for Ms Gosling’s murder, an investigation into how Northumbria Police handled the call-out hours before her death has unearthed failings by the force which had “profound consequences”.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found Hope’s address of Tewkesbury Road, first added to the police communications system back in 1999 for a minor criminal matter, was spelt incorrectly.
More than a decade on, when the address was checked by police on February 25, the system did not recognise it as being in the Northumbria Police area, and no data about Hope’s past was linked to it.
In a second layer of failure, the two officers attending the address, for what they believed was a case of anti-social behaviour, did not ask for Hope’s name and did not run a computer check on Ms Gosling – an action which would have automatically linked the couple to the history of abuse.
Just last week, newly-appointed police and crime commissioner Vera Baird joined Northumbria Chief Constable Sue Sim for the launch of the force’s domestic abuse awareness campaign Are You Walking On Eggshells? encouraging victims to come forward and get help. It was only after her appointment to the post in November that Ms Baird was told about the case and the errors.
She said: “I am satisfied at this stage that Northumbria Police have responded appropriately to the comments made by the IPCC and that they have not only learned lessons but have taken positive action to remedy the issues raised.”
The IPCC investigation found the force was aware of the abuse suffered by Ms Gosling and had been involved in measures with partner agencies to try to tackle it.
IPCC Commissioner Nicholas Long added: “It is therefore tragic that such an apparently simple error of misspelling a street name could undermine the positive work done by the police force.
“The lack of information undoubtedly dictated a certain mindset for the officers on that occasion, and as a result they only identified the incident as being one of anti-social behaviour.
“This possibly resulted in their lack of diligence in making their enquiries. Tragically, that specific incident was a precursor to Ms Gosling’s death. Although we can say there was a missed opportunity, we cannot speculate that if the officers had the information about the couple’s history, they would have identified an ongoing abuse situation and prevented the murder.”
Ms Gosling, from Guernsey, moved in with Hope after meeting him on Facebook in 2009.
But the relationship became abusive. Just 13 days before Ms Gosling’s murder, Hope was sentenced for common assault after hitting her with a rolling pin.
Following the IPCC investigation, Northumbria Police said it has made improvements to how it operates the communications system and the two officers involved have been given “management advice” regarding their failure to carry out diligent enquiries.
Responding to the report’s findings, Northumbria Police Supt Steve Wade said: “Although the officers involved were found to have no case to answer in terms of misconduct, they have been given words of advice around dealing with incidents of this nature to ensure they recognise in future any potential signs of abuse.
“Clearly there were lessons to be learned and we have taken every step we can to avoid a repeat of this incident. It is important to stress before the events of February 25, Northumbria Police and partner agencies had striven to support Sarah and had taken action against Ian Hope.
“However, the officers who attended on the evening of February 25 were called to a report of a neighbourhood dispute. Ms Gosling was calm and did not make any complaint of assault, which she had done in the past. The officers also spoke to Ian Hope separately.
“Even if the officers had been aware of the domestic abuse history, there was still no reasonable basis to arrest Hope, given the circumstances the officers faced.
“We acknowledge there were some specific areas for improvement, identified by the IPCC, which were implemented at the earliest opportunity.”
The IPCC report will now feed into the region’s first ever Domestic Violence Homicide Review. The review is being carried out by a number of agencies to examine whether any further lessons can be learned from the tragedy. It is due to be completed by the spring.