Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

IPCA: Woman's complaints poorly managed

Ashlee Edwards. Photo / Facebook
Ashlee Edwards. Photo / Facebook

The police watchdog has found that complaints about protection order breaches from a Northland woman who was subsequently murdered were never properly investigated.

Ashlee Edwards, 21, lodged complaints with police about two breaches alleged to have occurred in May 2012. She was killed about two months later.

A report from the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), released today, found the police handling of Ms Edwards' complaints was grossly inadequate and poorly managed.

According to the report, Ms Edwards laid the first complaint with Whangarei police on May 22, 2012 after receiving threatening text and voice messages. They forwarded the file to Kerikeri police for further action.

The second complaint was made four days later to the police northern communications centre, after Ms Edwards received more threatening text messages.

According to the IPCA report, four different police officers from the Whangarei and Kerikeri stations handled the family violence report, formed as a result of Ms Edward's first complaint.

Due to poor paperwork, communication between officers and staff leave, it took more than two weeks for someone to investigate.

After a frontline officer interviewed the person Ms Edwards alleged was responsible for the breaches they concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution and he was released without charge.

The officer had not been made aware of Ms Edwards' second complaint and had sought advice from another officer who had not read the full file.

The investigation into Ms Edwards' second complaint also highlighted serious problems with police systems.

A fifth officer, based at Kawakawa, responded to Ms Edward's second complaint on the day it was laid and issued a warning, They had no idea another complaint had been laid only days earlier.

The officer decided against making an arrest after deciding the incident was isolated and the suspect was not an immediate threat to Ms Edwards.

The mother of two was found dead beside a Whangerei river on July 27, 2012.

She had still to hear about the outcome of the investigation into her first complaint when she was killed.

Since her death, Northland police have taken various steps to improve their response to family violence incidents, the IPCA report stated.

These include appointing a district victim manager to guarantee a coordinated approach to vulnerable victims and ensure a senior sergeant is consulted if an officer is not planning to charge an alleged family violence offender.

A file management system has also been established so frontline staff are not responsible for the administration of files.

A 30-year-old man has been charged with Ms Edwards' murder.

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IPCA findings into police handling of Ashlee Edwards' complaints:

* The response to the first complaint was poorly managed and grossly inadequate

* The response to the second complaint was inadequate

* There was sufficient evidence to prosecute under the Domestic Violence Act after each of the complaints

* Failing to prosecute after the first complaint breached police family violence policy and procedures

* Issuing a warning after Ms Edwards' second complaint breached Northland Family Violence best practice guidelines

* There was no significant action with regards to Ms Edwards' initial complaint when it was laid

Source: IPCA

- APNZ

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