Police admit failings over death of ‘bubbly’ woman who reported being poisoned
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Police have admitted failings in the case of a 33-year-old who fell to her death after telling officers she had been poisoned – eight months after her family first complained.
Former Sudbury Upper School pupil Emma Fraser died from a traumatic brain injury after falling from a second-floor window in Halstead in the early hours of June 28, 2020. Minutes earlier, she dialled 999 to report being poisoned.
Now, 10 months on from her death, Essex Police has admitted failings in the force’s handling of the incident and apologised.
A spokesman said its investigations found no evidence to suggest third-party involvement and reviews found officers had explored all reasonable lines of enquiry.
- The complaint
Chief Inspector Lily Benbow investigated a complaint first lodged by Miss Fraser’s family in August last year.
During her assessment, she discovered:
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- A senior officer decided to close down the crime scene as he felt satisfied the incident was 'mental health-related'
- CCTV requested by a detective was not secured by local officers until 18 days after the incident, on July 15, at which point footage had been wiped. This, police said, was still “well within” the average 28 days for retaining CCTV
- No body-worn video was turned on before Miss Fraser fell from the window
In a report responding to the complaint, shared with this newspaper, Ch Insp Benbow concluded that a “clear” crime allegation had been made by Miss Fraser, and at the time, she was critically ill in hospital.
“This was a crime allegation that required a crime scene and proportionate criminal investigation,” she wrote.
She told Miss Fraser’s family the actions of a senior officer who decided to close the crime scene were not acceptable. Force-wide procedures on body-worn video for such incidents are also being reviewed.
In a letter to the family, the force's Professional Standards Department wrote: “It is clear the service you received fell below the high standard which is expected from Essex Police officers and staff. Please accept my apology, on behalf of the force, for these failings.”
Miss Fraser’s relatives launched a fight for answers last summer concerned she had been the victim of a crime. They remain unhappy with Essex Police's conclusions and plan to pursue other avenues, including having the case reviewed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
“We have waited eight months to confirm what we told police from the beginning, a crime scene should have been put in place and a criminal investigation should have started after Emma came out of the window,” said Miss Fraser’s mother, Cheryl.
She said: “This now needs to be put right, and we will continue to fight for justice for Emma.”
- Officer ‘baffled’ by lack of crime scene
An inquest into Miss Fraser’s death in November, which a coroner ruled was drug-related, heard there were four people in the flat she shared with ex-partner and friend Rachael Ward during the evening of June 27.
Essex Coroner’s Court was told the pair smoked cannabis before Miss Fraser began acting strangely. She started vomiting, called police to say she had been poisoned, and later appeared to apologise for her behaviour, saying she thought she needed sectioning.
Just before 1am, she fell from a second-floor window and suffered a serious brain injury from which she died the next day.
The report into the police complaint states a senior officer who was overseeing overnight reports from police HQ did not consider the incident involving Miss Fraser to be a crime, so decided a scene was not required.
Around 10 hours later, Detective Inspector Jamie Mills took over the investigation and asked for the flat to be preserved.
According to the report, forensic examination did not take place until Monday, June 29 as keys had to be secured.
Acting Inspector Joanne Molyneux, who was at the scene, states in her evidence that she thought the incident was a "mental health episode that ended tragically".
However, she said that at the time, it was unclear to her exactly what happened and she felt it necessary to establish a crime scene.
She said a senior officer questioned her reasoning, directing that it should be treated as a mental health incident and the scene was to be closed.
The report states A/Insp Molyneux "felt baffled" by this decision.
The senior officer said his initial thoughts were that, based on information available, the incident did not meet criteria to be classified as ‘likely to result in death or serious injury’.
He said he checked previous calls to the flat and noted a number of concerns for welfare and domestic incidents, writing in an incident log: “I remain satisfied that this is the unfortunate consequence of a significant mental health episode.”
Detective Inspector Wyatt, when asked for an expert view, wrote that an initial assumption over mental health resulted in the force's 'Investigation of Death' procedure not being followed.
This meant the 'Golden Hour' principles of investigation (the period immediately after an alleged offence when material is abundant and readily available) were also not met.
Temporary Detective Chief Inspector Trudi Arnold, who carried out a peer review before the inquest, concluded it was "highly likely" the incident’s initial grading as 'concern for safety', the consideration of its potential for death or serious injury, along with the FDO's decision, "initially overshadowed the potential for this to be treated as a criminal investigation".
- How have police responded?
No officers were referred for misconduct or disciplinary proceedings and Ch Insp Benbow found the actions of other officers were ‘acceptable’.
Superintendent Michelle Davies, who reviewed the report before publication, said the senior officer who said a crime scene was unnecessary will receive a reflective session from a senior officer.
Force-wide procedures on body-worn video for welfare incidents are being reviewed, with all officers who attended informed it should have been used in Miss Fraser's case. All managers were told a crime scene should have been established.
Police bosses said their reviews found officers explored all reasonable lines of enquiry.
"Our thoughts very much remain with Miss Fraser’s family and we continue to offer our deepest condolences," a spokesman said.
"We have identified points of learning and accept the investigative enquiries could have been started sooner.
"We once again offer our deepest sympathies to Miss Fraser’s family and to everyone who has been affected by the pain of losing her in such tragic circumstances."
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