Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 15:30 UK

Domestic abuse death police sorry


Assistant Chief Constable Alan Featherstone said the force had failed Susan Barber and her mother

Police have been forced to apologise to a family and change domestic abuse policies after the murder of a 75-year-old woman.

Mavis Clift died when a fire started by Paul Barber, her daughter's husband, destroyed her Northamptonshire home.

Parkinson's disease victim Barber, 55, poured petrol through the letter box of her house in Kingsthorpe, Northampton, early on New Year's Day 2008.

Barber, who died awaiting trial, was arrested seven times and released.

Each time he was freed he continued harassing his wife Susan and other members of her family.

In the fire that killed Mrs Clift, Barber's wife Susan, 56, suffered 33% burns to her body.

I am in fear even at night when the only way I feel safe in bed is when I barricade myself in
Susan Barber

Barber, of Coleraine Close, Northampton fled to Beachy Head in Sussex where he admitted his guilt to a 999 operator but was talked out of killing himself by a priest.

He was arrested and charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder, but collapsed in his prison cell at Woodhill Jail, Milton Keynes on 28 May and died in Milton Keynes hospital.

At one stage he had been sectioned at a psychiatric hospital.

A report by Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Forum, commissioned by the police, revealed in the eight months before Mrs Clift's death, her daughter Susan suffered horrifically at the hands of Barber.

Mrs Barber had telephoned the police on at least 20 separate occasions to report threats to kill her, harassment and damage.

Her friends and family had made 12 other calls themselves.

Barber admitted several attacks but the CPS decided not to prosecute because of his age, poor health, lack of previous convictions and a belief that a custodial sentence was unlikely.

He was bailed with the condition that he kept away from his wife but the harassment continued.

New police policies

In a statement to police Mrs Barber said: "I am in fear even at night when the only way I feel safe in bed is when I barricade myself in.

"I am imprisoned in my life. I have lost faith and confidence in justice and fairness. No matter what I do this person is still free to cause fear and harassment as and when he pleases."

Mrs Clift's family said in a statement: "We feel totally let down by the police on so many occasions. People should have the confidence that when they call police for assistance, their cries of help are responded to."

Dr Rachel Duncan of the Domestic Abuse Forum said: "The family did not receive the standard of service they were entitled to."

Northamptonshire Police have since introduced new policies to deal sympathetically with "repeat victims" subjected to threats.

The Forum has also urged them to record and investigate threats to kill and has asked that bail conditions should be made available to all staff.

The police communications centre never seemed able to locate an accurate set of Barber's bail conditions and only one of seven likely breaches was followed up.

Assistant chief constable Alan Featherstone apologised sincerely to Mrs Clift's family, particularly to Susan Barber, for not giving them the standard of service they had a right to expect.

He said: "We have been determined to learn the lessons from this review and I can assure the people of Northamptonshire that we have changed the way we deal with domestic abuse to focus on the safety of the victim."

No disciplinary action has been taken against any individual officer.

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