Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Monday, 27 February 2006

Gun death risk 'not understood'

By Sally Nancarrow
BBC News, Tunbridge Wells

Victim Clare Bernal
Pech would watch Ms Bernal while she was working

The gun death of a beauty consultant in Harvey Nichols could have been avoided if more was done in the judicial system, the victim's mother believes.

Clare Bernal, 22, was at work in the perfumery department of the store in Knightsbridge last September, where her ex-boyfriend shot her dead.

Michael Pech had pleaded guilty to harassment but was awaiting sentence.

"The danger signs were there but they were not taken seriously enough," said Clare's mother Patricia, from Kent.

Clare had a brief fling with Harvey Nichols security man Pech early in 2005.

After three weeks Clare ended the relationship but Pech bombarded her with 30 text messages a day and watched her constantly at work.

He followed her home to Dulwich, south-east London but when she told him to leave her alone or she would report him, he said: "If you report me I'll kill you."

The police arrested him for harassment and later charged him after he broke the bail condition that he should not go near Clare.

PECH HARASSMENT
28 Feb: Relationship ends
5 Apr: Formal police complaint made
6:Apr: Arrested and bailed
10 Apr: Rearrested after approaching Clare
11 Apr: Denies harassment and held in custody
19 Apr: Granted conditional bail
31 Aug: Admits harassment and is bailed
13 Sep: Kills Clare then himself

After pleading guilty to harassment, he was granted bail by the court.

But six months after threatening to kill Clare the Czech-born former soldier carried out his threat, before shooting himself dead.

Mrs Bernal, 50, from Tunbridge Wells, feels her daughter was let down by a legal system that failed to recognise the danger signs in Pech's obsessive behaviour.

The Metropolitan Police say Pech broke his bail conditions once but Mrs Bernal disputes this, saying it happened three times.

She now sees it as her duty to protect future victims of stalking and harassment.

Her campaign to raise awareness of the danger posed by stalkers is being supported by national domestic violence charity Refuge and her MP Greg Clark.

"Refuge would like to see mandatory and comprehensive training in how to identify the risks in domestic violence and stalking cases," said chief executive Sandra Horley.

Clare and her brothers Philip, now 17, and James, 21, were brought up in Tunbridge Wells. Mrs Bernal and their father, Martin, divorced when they were children.

Her mother said there was nothing in the family's experience that could have prepared Clare to see the "evil" in Pech.

"Clare saw nothing bad in anyone," said Ms Bernal. "That is the way we brought her up."

'Extremely concerned'

Mrs Bernal said she had nothing but admiration for Harvey Nichols security bosses, who initially moved Pech to a different department, then suspended him and brought in the police.

"Clare and I were both extremely concerned by what was going on. Clare was terribly, terribly upset," said her mother.

Mrs Bernal claims that an inexperienced young woman police officer was sent to interview Clare.

She also said that a file compiled by Harvey Nichols about Pech's irrational behaviour was not taken into account until just before the August court case.

Clare Bernal and Nicola Bates
Clare and her best friend Nicola Bates, shortly before Clare died

"I am not blaming the young police officer one little bit - I am not just blaming the police, but the whole system across the board," she said.

Everyone was lulled into a false sense of security because nothing was heard of Pech between April, when he was bailed by magistrates and August, when he appeared in court again.

In the summer, mother and daughter went on holiday to Florence together.

"Clare was getting stronger - we thought everything that could be done to protect Clare was being done," said Ms Bernal.

The inquest into his death was told Pech had been to Slovakia, where he bought and registered a handgun.

He was free to leave the country and bring back a gun - to me, that is madness
Patricia Bernal, Clare's mother

"We think he was there for most of those four months," said Ms Bernal. "That is why nothing was heard from him.

"He had been in the army and he retrained in firearms, bought a gun on the open market and brought it back into this country days before the shooting.

"Then he carried out his threat. He said to Clare he was going to kill her. He set it up and he planned it."

Ms Bernal believes if he had not been allowed out on bail, her daughter would still be alive.

"He was free to leave the country and bring back a gun - to me, that is madness. Why did he not at least have to report to police once a week?" she said.

"We are both in the EU - why was there no communication between the police forces?"

'Close monitoring'

A spokesman for Her Majesty's Courts Service said he was unable to comment on a judicial decision taken by an individual court.

The Metropolitan Police said it could not have predicted from the nature of Pech's harassment of Clare that he would murder her.

"Pech was immediately rearrested when he approached Clare near to her home address on 10 April," it said in a statement.

"This shows we were closely monitoring the situation and responding swiftly to her appeals for police assistance."

Coroner Dr Paul Knapman is due to resume the inquest into Clare's death on 8 May, when he is to report on his inquires into the alleged failures that allowed Pech to kill.

Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark said: "The important thing at this stage is that the inquest is a full one that gets the chance to look at the failings that led to this murder.

"But if necessary I will be pressing for a full inquiry."



SEE ALSO
Mother calls for stalker reforms
26 Feb 06 |  England
Woman witnessed stalking horror
16 Nov 05 |  London
'No predicting' stalker murder
07 Oct 05 |  London

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