Wednesday, April 01, 2015

UK: Coroner slams bungling police who destroyed vital evidence at murder scene because they treated death of pensioner found with her throat slit and her body set on fire as an ACCIDENT

Police officers failed to spot that an elderly widow whose throat had been cut had been murdered. Una Crown, 86, was repeatedly stabbed in the neck and then set on fire in the horrific attack at the bungalow where she lived alone.

But detectives, paramedics and firefighters trampled through her home, ‘severely contaminating’ the murder scene, after concluding that she had somehow set herself alight after falling on her cooker.

Muddy footprints were left on the floor, a detective touched her front door key with his bare hand and her grieving family was even allowed into the property to clean it up.

Concerns were only raised two days later by a mortuary technician.

It was another two days before a pathologist examined the body and confirmed the fatal injuries, along with multiple defensive wounds on Mrs Crown’s hands.

Detectives are still hunting the killer two years after her brutal death.

Coroner William Morris yesterday attacked the services involved for allowing vital clues to be lost as he recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. ‘I have to say the handling of evidence by the police has been unfortunate,’ he said.

A theory was formed relatively early on by acting detective sergeant Simon Gledhill that Una Crown had fallen on the hob or cooker and somehow set fire to herself and panicked, and had a heart attack and collapsed in the hallway.

‘In this suspicious death, foul play was too readily dismissed by police officers.’

Not treating the area as a full crime scene prevented a ‘proper forensic examination’ from being carried out.

Mrs Crown’s niece, Judith Paynes, told the hearing she was lost for words. ‘I cannot understand why this evidence wasn’t picked up,’ she said.

Mrs Crown, a retired postmistress, was found dead at her home in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, on January 13, 2013, after family and friends became concerned about her whereabouts.

She was covered in blood with her clothing ‘burnt to a crisp’ when the emergency services found her.

Mr Gledhill was one of the first officers to arrive. In a statement to the inquest in Huntingdon he said there was no sign of forced entry and the death ‘looked accidental’. Emergency services collectively concluded that the fire was caused when a tea towel caught fire on the hob.

Home Office pathologist Nat Carey told the hearing: ‘This was clearly a homicide from the wounds I saw – that’s not to say that’s how it was treated.

‘I concluded that she died from multiple stab wounds to her chest and neck.’

Senior investigator Detective Inspector Fraser Wylie told the inquest: ‘The scene was severely contaminated by the police, firefighters and paramedics because this had not been initially picked up as a murder investigation.’

A paramedic had prodded the body and transferred Mrs Crown’s blood to a light switch before rummaging through a chest of drawers. Mr Gledhill used latex gloves during his time at the house but admitted washing a bloodstained key under a tap after he touched it.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hopkins said the family’s complaints had been upheld in a review by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire professional standards department in June 2013.

Officers were provided with extra training as a result but none faced formal disciplinary procedures.

‘We recognise the failings by our officers in the initial stages of this investigation and we are deeply sorry for any hurt this has caused Mrs Crown’s family,’ he said.

Several people have been arrested in connection with the murder, but all have been released without charge.

Original report here

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