Woman falling to death after man’s rape acquittal an accident, says coroner

Tracy Shelvey, who died days after a man accused of raping her was cleared, plunged to her death after staging Rochdale rooftop protest

Tracy Shelvey

Tracy Shelvey was given inadequate support by agencies including the police, council and social and health services, the inquest heard. Photograph: PA

Josh Halliday

Tuesday 15 December 2015

A coroner has found “gross and significant” failings in the way police and council officials dealt with a woman before she plunged to her death from a multistorey car park, days after a man was cleared of raping her.

Tracy Shelvey, 41, died as a result of an accident after she slipped and fell from the highest point of a shopping centre car park, where she had gone to protest against the acquittal in January last year, the Manchester coroner Simon Nelson concluded.

Shelvey had given evidence against Patrick Hall at two trials, and he was found not guilty following a retrial. Police officers informed Shelvey of the verdict but she was not told of any support plan for her, the inquest at Oldham county court heard.

Nelson criticised several public bodies for failing to support Shelvey during and after the trials. The police, Rochdale council and social and health services were found to have shown “gross and significant failings”, but these did not “minimally contribute” to her death, he concluded.

He said Shelvey had not adequately been made aware of the possibility of an acquittal, which was the elephant in the room. He said this was an inexcusable failure even in light of Shelvey’s unpredictable behaviour.

The coroner added: “Senior officers should have ensured that a bespoke plan was in place before the conclusion of the trial, which would take account of Ms Shelvey’s known vulnerabilities. This was a significant and gross failure.”

The three-week inquest heard that on the day she was informed of the not guilty verdict an “enraged” Shelvey made two telephone calls to emergency services referencing self-harm. After the second call, Greater Manchester police officers were deployed to see her. The officers and a paramedic assessing her deemed that she was no risk to herself or others, stating that she was not “going to do anything stupid”.

Days later Shelvey, who had been referred to a community alcohol and drug team, went to the Wheatsheaf shopping centre in Rochdale to protest. She was perched on a pillar at the highest point of the car park when the conduit her foot was resting on gave way and she plunged to the ground.

The inquest heard that Shelvey had reported the alleged rape in 2011, and police later decided to take no further action. Shelvey was never told why. In 2012 the case was reopened after Hall was arrested and charged with raping another woman.

In a statement after the inquest verdict, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said it had found no case to answer for misconduct against GMP officers in how they dealt with Shelvey in the days after the acquittal. The police watchdog said Shelvey’s first phonecall to police referencing self-harm was poorly handled and recommended further training for a sergeant and a member of police staff.

Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner, called for root-and-branch reform of the way vulnerable witnesses are dealt with in the adversarial judicial system. “Tracy was let down by public services which should have worked in a coordinated fashion to help her. We owe it to Tracy’s memory and to her family to drive the changes which will prevent it happening again,” he said.

“I am working closely with police and other criminal justice agencies to remove the barriers and obstacles currently faced by vulnerable victims so that they know exactly who to turn to, what the processes are, and what support is available to them.”

Police referred Shelvey 10 times to Rochdale council’s adult care services, but the force admitted more could have been done to make sure action was being taken.

Asst Ch Const Robert Potts said GMP was reviewing how it dealt with rape and sexual assault cases in light of Shelvey’s death. He said: “Since Tracy’s death, all officers investigating rape and sexual assaults have been issued with a document which guides them to ensure that the correct support and strategies are in place for victims. We will be reviewing this process in light of this inquest.

“It is important to remember that police officers are not mental-health practitioners and a number of referrals were made to professionals who are trained in this area and better placed to make an assessment on what support is needed.”

Rochdale council said: “We have made a number of changes to our systems so that people in similar situations will get a greater level of support.”

Credit: The Guardian News





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