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Cause of Death: Stalking

Can Gracie's Law galvanise police procedures?

As mystery and thriller authors, we are constantly striving to write stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. Our characters have to be utterly engaging, and our plotting must be tight and twisty. While the villains may be cunning in their approach, the law enforcement professionals they face are usually diligent and dedicated.

The good guys usually win out in the end.

In real life, sadly, that doesn’t happen nearly often enough. And it seems all the sadder when something terrible happens and, as the story unfolds, you realise that it could have been so easily prevented, if links had been made, and procedures followed.

Gracie Spinks
In April 2020, twenty-three-year-old Gracie Spinks started working at an eCommerce company in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Her supervisor there was a man called Michael Sellers.

Thirty-five-year-old Sellers quickly became “infatuated” with Gracie, according to her mother, Alison Heaton, and pestered her to go out with him. Gracie was apparently not interested in a relationship, but was worried about how to tell Sellers to go away when he was technically her boss. Eventually, she agreed to a meal, but had to block him after enduring endless messages and phone calls, as well as him constantly asking work colleagues where Gracie was, and what she was doing.

In early 2021, Gracie went to see to her horse at the field in Duckmanton, five miles away from her home, only to find Sellers sitting in his car waiting for her. The car was the same model as one belonging to Gracie’s brother, which she had once remarked about liking.

Scared by this development, Gracie reported Sellers to the company they both worked for. The company suspended Sellers and advised Gracie to go to the police.

He said, she said.
The police came to see Gracie at home and took a statement, telling her they would then be going to see Sellers to instruct him to leave her alone. But, according to Gracie’s parents, they later learned that when the police went to Sellers’ home, he told them he was in a relationship with Gracie.

It appears that despite the conflicting statements, nobody came back to Gracie for clarification. This seems outrageous to me. If I reported my car as having been stolen, and the police caught a bloke driving it, who said he’d borrowed the car with my consent, surely the police would ask me for an explanation? Or would they simply take him at his word?

At the very least, telling Gracie what Sellers claimed would have given her additional warning of his obsessional behaviour.

This was not the only missed opportunity to warn Gracie of the dangers that lay ahead.

‘Don’t Lie!’
Around the end of April 2021, Anna White and her partner were walking past the field where Gracie kept her horse when they found a backpack-type bag. When they examined the contents, Ms White immediately handed the bag to the police. “It was obvious that it was going to be used to kill someone.”

Contents of Michael Sellers' backpack
Contents of Michael Sellers’ backpack.
Photo courtesy of Ms White.

The bag contained several large knives, a hammer, and a small axe, as well as Viagra and a note saying ‘DON’T LIE!’ The weapons were all new—so new, in fact, that the credit card receipt for them was also in the bag.

The receipt should have led the police straight to the household of Michael Sellers.

Instead, the police indicated to Ms White that the bag was probably going to be put into Lost Property. “I was gobsmacked.”

By coincidence, Ms White’s daughter also worked for the same company as Gracie, and said that Sellers was known as “Creepy Mike” by various female employees.

Had the police spoken to Sellers’ work, they would have discovered his pattern of stalking behaviours with other female members of staff.

Had the bag of weapons been connected with Sellers, he might have been stopped before he could escalate his obsession with Gracie.

Had Gracie’s family been told about the bag and its contents, her parents say they would have made sure she never went to see to her horse unaccompanied.

No Happy Ending
Instead, in June 2021, Gracie was discovered in the paddock with her horse, dying of a stab wound to the neck that was so severe it had severed her cervical spine as well as both her carotid artery and her jugular vein. A man, believed to be Sellers, was seen running away.

Shortly afterwards, Sellers himself was found dead nearby.

Derbyshire Police referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and announced it was appointing a stalking coordinator.

Gracie’s parents began a campaign for Gracie’s Law, to ask the government to provide additional resources to police for officers to deal specifically with stalking complaints. By January this year, they had gained a hundred and five thousand signatures to a petition in support.

The matter was debated in Westminster in January, led by Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi. “It can’t go on like this. The government must now recognise that we have an epidemic on our hands.

“If you are mugged or burgled you are not asked to provide evidence, but if you are a victim of stalking you are, the onus is put on the victim.”

Fine words, but can Gracie’s Law now galvanise the police to be more effective in the fight against violence to women?

Richard Spinks and daughter Gracie
Richard Spinks and daughter Gracie.
Her parents are now campaigning for Gracie’s Law.

This week’s Word of the Week is animadvert, meaning to pass criticism on, or to speak out against, from the Latin advertere, to notice or take cognisance of, or to blame or punish, and animus, the mind.

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