Abuse victims need replacement phone if mobile seized for evidence – coroner

A coroner is to write to the policing minister calling for at-risk victims to be provided with replacement phones if their mobiles are seized for evidence.

Dorset coroner Brendan Allen is making the recommendation following the inquest into the death of hairdresser Katrina O’Hara who was stabbed to death at the salon where she worked in Blandford Forum, Dorset, on January 7 2016.

Stuart Thomas was convicted of her murder in August that year and sentenced to life imprisonment with a requirement he serve a minimum of 26 years.

Katrina O’Hara murder
Katrina O’Hara murder

Following an inquest in Bournemouth which recorded a verdict of unlawful killing, Mr Allen is to highlight the provision of a replacement phone as well as to ensure police forces consider the suicide risk of a perpetrator when assessing the risk to an abuse victim.

He is also calling for the classification of 999 calls to recognise the importance of a call from a domestic abuse victim as well for police forces to ensure all of the users of the NICHE police computer system are fully trained in its functionality.

The inquest jury examined Dorset Police’s actions following a breach by Thomas of his bail conditions by indirectly contacting Ms O’Hara before her death but it concluded that this and her lack of a telephone did not “more than minimally contribute to her death”.

An earlier report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct found that she was left “afraid and vulnerable” as a result of her phone being taken away.

Katrina O’Hara death
Katrina O’Hara death

The murder trial heard that Ms O’Hara had reported Thomas, a father-of-four, to police just before New Year’s Eve after he repeatedly confronted her and sent her “many messages” pleading for her to take him back.

Responding to the inquest, Ms O’Hara’s family said in a statement released through Hudgell Solicitors: “Having lived through our mum’s fear and witnessed the police’s actions, we still feel that there were some very serious failings in the way the police responded to our mum.

“We will always feel let down by them. However, looking back and criticising others achieves nothing. So, our focus is on how we can prevent such an awful tragedy happening to other families.

“We’re heartened that as a result of what happened to our mum that Greater Manchester Police have changed their policy about mobile phones and stalking victims to ensure that no-one at risk is left without a phone. We hope other forces will follow suit.

“And while we recognise that Dorset Police have made some changes as a result of our mum’s death, we’re not convinced their policy is as straightforward as it should be.

“As we’ve said before, our mum’s case is not unique and our only hope is that her death will serve as a wake-up call to the Government and police forces across the country to not brush domestic violence issues under the carpet.”