Police failed Arsema Dawit inquest concludes

Friday 26 September 2014

An inquest into the death of Arsema Dawit has found that she was let down by the police after she reported her ex-boyfriend's threatening behaviour to them.

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On 2 June 2008, Arsema Dawit was killed by Thomas Nugusse. He stabbed her over 60 times.

Prior to this, Thomas Nugusse’s behaviour towards Arsema had become increasingly controlling and abusive. On 16 April 2008, Thomas Nugusse punched Arsema in the face in a McDonalds restaurant, causing her a black eye. Thereafter Thomas Nugusse harassed, followed and threatened to kill Arsema. On 30 April 2008, Arsema, her mother and her cousin, distressed by Thomas Nugusse’s escalating conduct, visited Kennington Police Station to report a series of incidents. They spent almost three hours with the Station Reception Officer, a civilian police employee, reporting threats to kill, harassment and the assault in McDonalds by Thomas Nugusse. However, the Crime Reporting Information System (CRIS) report was classified only as Actual Bodily Harm.

Despite the CRIS report detailing information about harassment and a threat to kill, the CRIS report was never reclassified and relevant policies, procedures and risk assessments were never implemented.

Thomas Nugusse continued to harass and threaten Arsema, and the family, having lost all hope in the police, took Arsema to and from the bus stop each day so that she could go to school and refused to let her go elsewhere, fearing for her safety. This pattern continued until 2 June 2008, when Arsema was violently and brutally murdered by Thomas Nugusse.

Thomas Nugusse was arrested by the police, charged with murder and was detained in prison, pending a trial. However, whilst in prison he attempted to take his own life, which meant that by the time of the trial, Thomas Nugusse was unfit to plead. In 2009, a jury at the Old Bailey found that Thomas Nugusse did the act of killing Arsema.

Following a judicial review of a previous Coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest into Arsema’s death in 2012, the family were successful in securing a full Article 2 inquest to examine the circumstances of the death, including the actions and inaction of the police.

On certain dates between 2 September 2014 and 26 September 2014 at Southwark Coroner’s Court, the Matter of the Inquest Touching the Death of Arsema Dawit was held before Dr Andrew Harris, the Southwark Senior Coroner, sitting with a jury.

The jury unanimously found that Arsema Dawit was unlawfully killed. In relation to the failings of the police, the jury delivered their unanimous conclusions in a highly critical narrative, demonstrating that a full inquest to explore these issues and secure the rights of the family was essential.

Tsehaynesh Medihani, the mother of Arsema Dawit, said as follows.

I have waited six long years for other people to find out the truth about the circumstances surrounding my daughter’s tragic death. This case is not simply about a brutal and unforgivable murder, but why, despite me begging the police to save my daughter, the police failed to act.

The jury, by their conclusions, have vindicated me and what I have been saying from the very beginning.

The jury were unequivocal in their findings that the failings of the Metropolitan Police Service contributed to my daughter’s death. The jury found as follows:

  • The police had several incidents reported to them on 30 April 2008 with Arsema as the victim of those incidents
  • The Crime Reporting Information System (CRIS) report completed on 30 April 2008 had limitations
  • The limitations of the CRIS report led to several assumptions being made by the police
  • The wrong offence, Actual Bodily Harm, had been recorded as the principal offence, whereas it should have been a threat to kill
  • Had the principal offence been recorded and verified as a threat to kill, a risk assessment would have been carried out
  • This would have recognised and prioritised the threat to kill as urgent
  • The subsequent police investigation of actual bodily harm was inadequate for a threat to kill
  • The police investigation was insufficient and not carried out in a timely manner
  • The police took insufficient measures in trying to communicate with my family, despite knowing we needed an interpreter
  • My home was not visited
  • The time taken to establish contact with Arsema was inadequate
  • When contact was made at school, for example in a school corridor, this was an inappropriate environment in which to contact Arsema and ask her for her account
  • There was minimal supervision by the police of this case
  • The police gave this case a lower priority than it deserved

My beautiful Arsema had a great future ahead of her and big ambitions. We left a warzone and came to this country where I thought my children would be safe.

Arsema was a loving daughter and sister. She was assaulted, harassed and terrorised by Thomas Nugusse, a man the police were informed was in his late twenties or early thirties.

The police did nothing to stop Thomas Nugusse from carrying out his threats to kill Arsema just three days after her 15th birthday.

I have had an agonising four weeks reliving the nightmare of those last few weeks of my daughter’s life.

While the pain of the loss of my daughter will never go away, I can take some comfort from the fact that the public now know the truth that Arsema’s death was avoidable and that her life could have been saved if the police had acted.

A copy of the record of the inquest is available here.

In a statement to the media, the police have said that they support the jury's findings.

The decision has been widely reported in the media, including by the Guardian, ITV News, and the BBC.

The family of Arsema Dawit was represented by Leslie Thomas QC and Una Morris. They were instructed by Manal Fouad and Natalie Thomas of Ziadies Solicitors.

Leslie Thomas QC and Una Morris are members of the Garden Court Police Actions, Inquests and Public Law Teams.

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