Murder of Bury St Edmunds fitness instructor, Mary Griffiths, was ‘preventable’, High Court hears

Mary Griffiths, who was murdered by a stalker. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Mary Griffiths, who was murdered by a stalker. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Lawyers for the children of a Bury St Edmunds fitness instructor who was killed by a stalker say her murder was “preventable”, the High Court in London heard today.

John McFarlane, who is serving a life sentence.

John McFarlane, who is serving a life sentence. - Credit: Archant

Mary Griffiths, a “wonderful mother and a kind and thoughtful woman”, was dragged from her bed by John McFarlane, who broke into her home in Bulrush Crescent in the early hours of May 6, 2009.

The 40-year-old slaughterman was armed with an axe and shot the mother-of-three in the chest with a bolt gun used for killing cattle.

Mary’s daughters – Jessica, Hannah and Sophie – have brought a damages action against Suffolk Constabulary and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Nicholas Bowen QC told Mr Justice Ouseley that McFarlane, who is serving a minimum term of 20 years, had been stalking the 38-year-old in the days before the murder and she had called the police at 5.56pm the day before, wanting them to come out.

“But for reasons that we will investigate in this trial they decided not to prioritise the call and did not attend,” Mr Bowen said.

“A call was made at 6.26pm on May 5 to the crisis team informing them of the escalating situation by a friend but the call was not picked up until the following morning.

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“The primary responsibility was of course McFarlane’s but we say the murder was preventable.”

Mr Bowen said that had McFarlane been detained on May 3 under the Mental Health Act or proper steps been taken by either or both Suffolk Police and Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust in accordance with their protective obligations under human rights law and the common law, the murder would not have occurred.

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Jeremy Johnson QC, for the chief constable of Suffolk, said the issue was whether his officers, or the force civilian staff, knew or ought to have known on May 5 that there was a real and immediate risk to Ms Griffiths’s life and, if so, whether they failed to take reasonable steps in response.

“The police have enormous sympathy for the claimants,” he said.

“They are utterly blameless. Their mother was utterly blameless. They have suffered a dreadful tragedy and loss.

“They have a right to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, albeit, of course, nothing can begin to remedy their loss.

“However, it is respectfully submitted that they have not shown that the police acted unlawfully.”

Mr Johnson said it could not be established that the police knew, or ought to have known, that there was a real and immediate risk.

Angus Moon, for the NSFT, said there was no support for the contention that its staff knew or ought to have known that McFarlane was stalking or harassing Ms Griffiths.

A risk screen on McFarlane on May 3 stated that there were recent out of character outbursts but no history of violence or aggression.

McFarlane was offered hospital admission because of an impulsive suicide attempt but refused, and the two-hour Mental Health Act assessment found there were no sufficient grounds to detain him.

The trust’s independent psychiatric expert considered that the risk of violence by McFarlane to others in general – and to Ms Griffiths and her children in particular – was unknown until it was too late.

Counsel said that none of the trust’s staff considered that McFarlane posed a risk to others as opposed to himself.

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