Daughters lose damages case over fitness instructor's murder
PUBLISHED: 12:28 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:44 10 October 2018
The daughters of a 38-year-old Bury St Edmunds woman murdered by a stalker have lost a High Court damages battle.
Mary Griffiths was shot dead in her home in front of her daughters by slaughterman John McFarlane after he broke into her home and dragged her out of her bed in May 2009.
McFarlane was jailed for a minimum of 20 years for the murder following a hearing at the Old Bailey in November 2009.
Daughters Jessica, Hannah and Sophie Griffiths sued Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and Suffolk Constabulary for damages, saying her death was preventable.
A High Court judge today dismissed their claims.
Evidence showed that McFarlane had been stalking and harassing Ms Griffiths, a fitness instructor, and she had called police the day before she died and said she was concerned about his behaviour.
He then broke into her home in Bulrush Crescent in Bury St Edmunds in the early hours of May 6 armed with an axe and shot her repeatedly with a bolt-gun in front of her three children, who were aged between nine and 13 at the time.
Mr Justice Ouseley explained, in his ruling, how Ms Griffiths and McFarlane had been friends, but the fitness instructor had “made it clear” that she did not wish their friendship to develop into a romance.
The judge said there had been mental health concerns about McFarlane in the days before the attack on May 6, 2009.
He said McFarlane had been angry, resented things Ms Griffiths had said and had attempted suicide on May 2.
On May 3, a Mental Health Act Assessment Panel had decided that he did not need to be compulsorily admitted to hospital.
He had gone to live on a farm where he worked and was being cared for by a “crisis team” working for the NHS trust.
Ms Griffiths called police around 6pm on May 5, saying McFarlane was harassing her and that she was “really frightened”.
A control room operator had called shortly before 10pm and asked if it would be possible “in view of the resources available” for police not to come that night but the next morning.
Ms Griffiths said that “would be fine”.
Shortly before 3am on May 6 McFarlane had broken into her home, dragged her out of bed and shot her in the presence of her children.
Mr Justice Ouseley concluded that there was clearly a risk of harassment and stalking on the night of May 5 but nothing to suggest an “imminent risk” against which police measures were required.
The judge said there was no basis on which the Mental Health Act Assessment Panel ought to have concluded that McFarlane posed a risk to the public because there was a risk that he would kill himself.
Lawyers representing police had told the judge that Ms Griffiths’ daughters had a right to criminal injuries compensation.
But they said evidence did not show that police acted unlawfully.
Lawyers representing the trust said there was “no support for the contention” that staff knew or ought to have known that McFarlane was stalking or harassing Ms Griffiths.
A spokesman for Imran Khan Solicitors, representing Ms Griffiths’ daughters, said: “Our clients are disappointed. They will now consider their options with their legal team.”
A spokesman for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are pleased that the judge accepted the evidence of the independent expert who found that the care provided by trust staff was entirely appropriate and that the appalling act by John McFarlane in murdering Mary Griffiths could not have been foreseeable or predicted by those who assessed him, particularly as he never expressed any intent to harm Mrs Griffiths or anyone else.
“However, we of course continue to have the deepest sympathy for the three daughters in this case who lost their mother in the most tragic circumstances.
“In seeking to defend this claim, based upon the independent expert evidence, we in no way sought to diminish the tragedy they suffered and continue to suffer.”
Suffolk police did not wish to comment.