5th November, 2020

Case Summary: The Queen on the application of Mr Peter Skelton & Mrs Elizabeth Skelton v Senior Coroner for West Sussex with The Chief Constable of Sussex Police & Robert Twigg as Interested Parties

In this post Jennie Ferrario summarises the judicial review application brought by Mr & Mrs Skelton regarding a ruling of the Senior Coroner in their daughter’s inquest proceedings (Susan Nicholson) that it was not to be held as an article 2 compliant inquest. The decision is significant because it highlights the wide scope for article 2 inquest proceedings and the importance of historical incidents in considering whether the threshold for such an inquest is reached.

As part of her regulatory practice, Jennie has appeared in inquest proceedings since 1998 and continues to represent families of the deceased and corporate clients.

In 2003, Robert Trigg was cautioned for assaulting his partner Susan Holland by Sussex Police. She contacted the police again in 2004 & 2005 alleging further violence but the police were unable to take further details from her.

In March 2006, Caroline Devlin a former partner of Robert Trigg was murdered. At the time the police treated her death as non-suspicious.

During January & March 2011, the police were called out by Robert Trigg’s neighbours to his home address regarding domestic arguments with this then partner Susan Nicholson. On the 3rd occasion 26 March, Ms Nicholson had visible injuries to her face and parts of her hair were missing. The police categorised the incidents as standard but following the third call out, a caution to Robert Trigg was issued. In April 2011 Susan Nicholson was murdered. The police treated it at the time as non-suspicious.

In 2016/17 Sussex Police launched ‘Operation Naples’ designed to re-investigate cases that had a perpetrator’s name mentioned more than once in their police system. Naples showed several calls to the police by Susan Holland 2003-2005 about Robert Trigg’s aggressive behaviour. She gave a formal statement to the police in 2016 describing Robert Trigg as unstable, physically violent and extremely aggressive and controlling. Naples showed various calls by Caroline Devlin to the police about Robert Triggs in the 12 months prior to her death. Naples also showed that in 2006 Carole O’Neil a former partner of Robert Triggs reported aggressive behaviour to the police and Lisa Herley also a former partner reported assault by Robert Triggs in 2010 for which the police administered a formal caution.

Naples led to Robert Triggs being arrested and convicted of manslaughter for the deaths of Caroline Devlin and Susan Nicholson.

During the inquest (concerning the death of Susan Nicholson), her parents Mr & Mrs Skelton argued that the Coroner ought to have considered breaches of article 2 ECHR by Sussex Police for (a) failing to conduct an effective investigation in to the death of Caroline Devlin and (b) failing to take reasonable steps to protect their daughter in the months before her death against the real and immediate risk to her life posed by Robert Trigg. The Coroner declined.

In considering the judicial review the Court explored the evidence arsing from Naples and whether the police ‘ought reasonably to have known’ of a risk to life. It was decided that an arguable case had arisen from the evidence that the police ought to have taken measures to involve social services to protect Susan Nicholson based on the information available to them at the time. Had they done so, Robert Trigg might not have been in a position to murder her because protective measures would have likely been in place. The Court highlighted that whilst they made no finding of any breach of duty by the police, that the Coroner should have held an article 2 compliant inquest to determine whether a breach had occurred. The Judicial Review application succeeded and a fresh inquest has been ordered.

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