Police failed murdered woman

Last updated 12:23 19/12/2013

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Police responded in a "poorly managed and grossly inadequate way" to complaints of protection-order breaches from a woman whose former partner has since been charged with her murder.

Mother-of-two Ashlee Edwards, 21, was killed in Whangarei in July 2012 and her body was found under a bridge. Former partner Jimmy Akuhata has been charged with murder.

Edwards had been granted a protection order against Akuhata in 2010, an Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report published today said.

On May 22 and May 26, 2012, Edwards made two complaints to Whangarei police, alleging Akuhata had breached the order by threatening her by text message and telephone.

The relationship between the two had been intermittent over about six years, and included eight recorded family violence incidents.

When Edwards made the first complaint, she had received 43 text messages and 159 voice mail messages from Akuhata in which he made serious threats, including threatening to kill her, rape her, cut her head off, and throw battery acid in her face. Some of the phone calls were overheard by Edwards' sister, the IPCA report said.

At the time Akuhata was on home detention in Kerikeri.

The authority found the police response to the first complaint was "poorly managed and grossly inadequate", and the response to the second complaint was inadequate.

"The failure of police to properly investigate both complaints and take into account Mr Akuhata's escalating history of violence towards Ms Edwards amounted to a failure to ensure her safety. This was unjustified," the report said.

Northland police district commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou said officers had been disciplined and faced serious consequences for their lack of action.

"I am saddened by this incident and with the lack of response by the officers who did not take proper ownership of Ms Edwards' complaints and follow them up with urgency," Le Prou said.

He had apologised to Edwards' mother for the police failure to keep her daughter safe.

The first of Edwards' protection-order breach complaints was made to Whangarei Police and the second to the Police Northern Communications Centre, the IPCA report said.

In its investigation, the authority found the breaches were dealt with independently of one another and that the officer dealing with the second complaint was unaware of the first.

The police Whangarei family violence co-ordinator told the authority there were about 40 to 50 family violence incidents a week in the Whangarei and Kaipara area. She single-handedly co-ordinated the police response to those incidents, creating a significant workload which she was expected to manage without help from other staff or specialist training, the report said.

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The mid-north family violence co-ordinator had an equally burdensome workload.

Authority chairman Sir David Carruthers said both complaints included sufficient evidence to prosecute Akuhata under the Domestic Violence Act, but on both occasions Akuhata was released without charge.

"The authority's investigation also found that there was a failure amongst all of the police involved in this case to take proper ownership of Ms Edwards' first complaint and to appreciate the urgency and significance of the situation," Carruthers said.

"The need for immediate action to be taken in this case was emphasised by Ms Edwards and support agencies, but various shortcomings within Northland district meant this was not recognised and ultimately, this undermined people's safety."

The IPCA endorsed actions taken since then to improve the police response to family violence incidents in Northland, including a district-wide quality assurance review of family violence policy and practice, the appointment of a district victim manager, the introduction of a tasking system for files where an offender was still outstanding, and ensuring the transfer of files from one area to another was done effectively.

The authority also supported the establishment of a district command centre which would enable a timely response to family violence incidents, and the establishment of a Whangarei area prevention team whose duties included reducing victimisation and actively preventing family violence, Carruthers said.

Because of the steps taken by police since Edwards' death, the authority did not make any recommendations.

- Stuff

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