A mother whose daughter was murdered by a repeat domestic abuser weeks after police were meant to warn her is to urge MSPs to back calls for an urgent Fatal Accident Inquiry.
On Thursday, Caroline Lyon will visit the Scottish Parliament on the second anniversary of the murder of her daughter, Louise Aitchison, to ask politicians to support a swift inquiry to establish how her daughter was failed by Police Scotland and ensure lessons are learned.
The national force has apologised to her and admitted 18 separate errors meant a formal warning that her daughter’s new boyfriend had a history of domestic abuse was never delivered before she was killed. The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) investigated and concluded the planned warning could have saved her life.
Ms Lyon believes an urgent Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) must examine the failures – in police procedures and training – that allowed her daughter to be murdered, to save other woman at risk of violent partners. On Friday afternoon, the Crown Office called to inform that an FAI will be held into her daughter’s death but when has still to be decided.
Ms Lyon said: “I am happy a Fatal Accident Inquiry will happen. We cannot wait four, five, six years. Women are at risk right now and must be protected right now. It has taken two years to decide to have an FAI. It cannot take two or three more to start it.
“We now know how police errors led to my daughter’s death but we do not know why they happened or what has been done to stop them happening again.
“Every night that passes while we wait for a Fatal Accident Inquiry, I lie awake worrying there will be more deaths like my Louise because of the failure of the police to properly use the procedures and systems they already have in place to protect domestic abuse victims. I’m calling for an immediate Fatal Accident Inquiry so we can learn what went wrong and examine what steps have been taken to ensure no other victim is let down so badly.
“Until we have that inquiry, I fear other domestic abuse victims will be left at risk like Louise, and I cannot live with that on my conscience. Maybe others can but I can’t.”
Dental nurse Ms Aitchison, 33, was murdered in her East Kilbride home on April 28, 2020, by her boyfriend Darryl Paterson, who had convictions for abusing women and more charges pending.
Police failed to warn her about Paterson’s record for weeks after deciding to formally inform her. Even, on the night she died, after she called 999 when he refused to leave her flat, officers thought it might not be an “appropriate” time to warn her. Paterson was allowed to leave but returned, as he promised, within the hour and killed Ms Aitchison with a knife.
The police warning had been delayed for five weeks and never delivered. After Louise’s murder, Paterson tried to give himself up but was taken to hospital instead of being arrested and later released. Meanwhile, Ms Aitchison lay dead in her home for days before she was eventually found.
Calls for an urgent FAI have been backed by Tory Shadow Social Justice Secretary Miles Briggs, who will be among the cross-party MSPs meeting Ms Lyon on Thursday. He said: “The large number of failures by Police Scotland to utilise the procedures and processes they had in place must be a cause of concern for every domestic abuse advocate and victim in the country.”
Lanarkshire MSP Monica Lennon, who will also meet Ms Lyon on Thursday, said: “We are glad an FAI will be held to establish what went wrong and what has been done to adequately address the catalogue of failures. Louise’s family is desperate to ensure other women are not living in risk needlessly and that is why the FAI must proceed as a matter of urgency.”
Police Scotland admitted the intended warning that was never delivered may have allowed Ms Aitchison to make a “more fully rounded decision about her safety” but, in a response to Pirc, said systems have been changed and training improved.
The Crown Office said: “After careful consideration by Crown counsel, it has been decided a Fatal Accident Inquiry should take place into the death of Louise Aitchison. The procurator fiscal has now started work to initiate this inquiry and there are a number of legal steps which must be taken before it can commence.”
Failed and failed again
In 2019, Louise Aitchison, 33, is moved, after being terrorised by a stalker, to a flat where she is supposed to be given special attention as a vulnerable victim and witness. Within weeks, she is targeted by repeat domestic abuser Darryl Paterson. On March 24, 2020, a police officer is concerned she may be at risk and makes a formal application for a disclosure order allowing her to be told.
An inquiry officer and a detective inspector assess the risk as low before failing to log the application. On April 9, a decision to warn her about Paterson’s past is taken and a “concern report” is added to the police database.
Guidance demands disclosure warnings are delivered within 10 days but the system fails to flag up overdue notices. On April 23, an officer tries to make contact with Ms Aitchison by phone but no number is filed.
At 10.45pm on April 28, Ms Aitchison calls 999 as Paterson is refusing to leave. Officers arrive at the scene but still fail to warn Ms Aitchison. Paterson is allowed to leave. He returns within the hour and murders her.
Officers check but fail to enter Ms Aitchison’s flat where her body lies undiscovered for two days while Paterson tries to give himself up but is taken to hospital instead. He is finally jailed for life last January.
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