Inquest finds that Sussex Police could have prevented Susan Nicholson’s death
Susan’s parents hope that the results of the inquest will ensure that victims of domestic violence are better protected by the police
A fresh inquest into the death of Susan Nicholson has concluded that Sussex Police had information that should have alerted them that Robert Trigg was a real and immediate risk to her life and failed to take reasonable steps to protect her. The jury also found that there were significant failings in the investigation following the death of Trigg’s previous partner, Caroline Devlin.
The inquest, which was held before the Senior Coroner for West Sussex, Penelope Schofield, took place 10 years after Susan’s death, 15 years after Caroline’s death and four years after their killer was convicted.
Robert Trigg killed Caroline Devlin in 2006 and Susan Nicholson in 2011. He had a long history of violence against women. However Sussex Police initially considered both deaths to be non-suspicious.
Susan’s parents, Peter and Elizabeth Skelton, campaigned for six years for Susan’s death to be adequately investigated. Throughout that period, they were repeatedly knocked back by Sussex Police, who maintained that Susan’s death was not suspicious.
Eventually, thanks to Peter and Elizabeth’s efforts, Sussex Police re-opened the investigation into Susan’s death and Trigg was convicted of Susan’s murder in July 2017. He was convicted at the same trial for the manslaughter of Caroline Devlin. He is currently serving a 25-year sentence for their deaths.
The recent inquest, which was held under the Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, amended the cause of Susan’s death from “accidental” to “unlawful killing”. The jury also found that Sussex Police knew or should have known of the risk to Susan and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent her death, and that Susan’s death may have been avoided had there not been significant failings in the investigation following Caroline Devlin’s death.
Susan’s parents, Peter and Elizabeth Skelton, have released the following statement: “In the immediate aftermath of Susan’s death in 2011, the same facts that made it clear to us that Susan had been murdered were known to Sussex Police. It was obvious that Robert Trigg’s account of what happened could not be true. It was clear that the sofa where he said he accidentally smothered Susan was too small for two people to sleep on.
“We did not know then the history of awful violence perpetrated by Trigg against Susan and other women, or about the death of his previous partner Caroline Devlin. Sussex Police did know. It has been agony for us to learn about what Susan went through prior to her death and the extent of the failings to protect her from him.
“In refusing to investigate Susan’s death for six years, Sussex Police were denying Susan’s two boys the right to know how their mother died. In the same way, they denied Caroline’s children the right to know how their mother died in 2006 by deciding that her death was non-suspicious from the start.
“This inquest has explored the failures of the police to protect Susan and to adequately investigate Caroline Devlin’s death. We are pleased and relieved that the jury have recognised what seemed apparent to us; that the police did not do enough to protect Susan, nor did they do enough to investigate Caroline’s death.
“It took six years for Trigg to be prosecuted for the murder of our daughter Susan, and the manslaughter of Caroline. Throughout this time, during which we were mostly acting alone without legal representation, we tried again and again to persuade Sussex Police to properly investigate Susan’s death.
“We were ignored and spoken down to. We were treated like a nuisance and it was implied that we were lying or obsessive. They did not listen to us, or respond to our concerns. It was only when we obtained a report from an experienced pathologist, Dr Cary, that Sussex Police finally listened to us.
“Even after Susan and Caroline’s killer was convicted, the police’s actions suggested they were not willing to listen. They opposed us in seeking this fuller inquest, without which these failings would not have been explored at all.
“We are relieved that these things have finally been explored at this full inquest.
“Instead of enjoying our retirement years, we have suffered mental torture for over a decade fighting to get justice for Susan. The delay in the criminal case, and the resulting delay to these inquest proceedings, have had a deep and traumatic impact on us and Susan’s whole family.
“Our efforts over the ten years since Susan’s death have not made this process or this outcome any less distressing.
“We hope that Sussex Police will reflect on all the jury’s conclusions, and ensure that victims of domestic violence, and their families, are better treated in future.”
Brandyn McKenna, son of Caroline Devlin said:
“My family are relieved that today the jury has recognised Sussex Police’s failure to properly investigate my mother’s death. We are thankful for the efforts of Peter and Elizabeth Skelton for their undivided attention and their courage in getting our family the answers that we have wanted for, for so long.”
“Susan Nicholson’s family have finally had a chance to hear a full inquest into whether Sussex Police could have prevented her death. The evidence we have heard over the last two weeks has made plain that policies were not followed and the risks to Susan were not adequately identified. This was in part because Caroline Devlin’s death, some five years previously, was not adequately investigated. It was also because not enough was done in response to the escalating violence that Robert Trigg was inflicting on Susan. Susan’s parents have fought for years to be listened to. No family should have to go through what they have gone through. We hope that Sussex Police have learnt from this case, so as to better protect victims of domestic violence and to better listen to their families in future. My enormous thanks to Heather Williams QC of Doughty Street Chambers for her extraordinary advocacy and dedication to this case.”
Susan Nicholson’s family are represented by Alice Hardy and Fiona Bowen of Hodge Jones & Allen, and Heather Williams QC of Doughty Street Chambers.
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