Full inquest into the murder of Susan Nicholson to take place following lengthy legal battle

Posted on: 23rd October 2020

Nine-years after the murder of a woman by a double killer, the High Court has ordered a full inquest which will investigate potential police failings that led to her death, with the hope that victims of domestic violence are better protected by police in the future.

The judicial review, which was heard on 6 to 8 October, relates to the murder of Susan Nicholson by her partner Robert Trigg in 2011. Sussex Police initially considered her death non-suspicious and the coroner found it to be accidental but her parents, Peter and Elizabeth Skelton, campaigned for years for Robert Trigg to be investigated for her murder.
After Trigg was convicted in 2017 the Coroner wanted to hold a short inquest, just changing the cause of death from “accidental” to “unlawful killing”. She did not want to look at the wider circumstances of Susan’s death, including whether it could have been prevented.

The full inquest, under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – will take an in-depth look at whether the police failed to protect Susan’s life. This will include looking at whether the police properly investigated the death of another of Trigg’s partners, Caroline Devlin, and whether they responded appropriately to violence that Trigg committed against Susan in the weeks before her death.

Witnesses will be interviewed and questions will be directed to Sussex Police officers about whether they took adequate steps to protect Susan, and whether they could have prevented her murder.

At the hearing, Sussex Police argued that the judicial review should be dismissed despite initially indicating that they took a neutral stance. They also sent a bill for their costs to Susan’s parents’ solicitors, indicating that they would claim their legal costs from Susan’s parents if the legal challenge was unsuccessful.

Robert Trigg also chose to intervene in the judicial review. In a naked attempt to undermine his conviction, his sister in law, who is a solicitor, argued on his behalf that the new inquest should look again at whether he was responsible for Susan’s death, even though he has already been convicted of her murder. His application has been roundly rejected in the judgment.

The police had been called to Susan’s flat at least three times in the weeks before her death following reports of violence. Sussex Police were aware that Trigg had a long history of violence against women, causing one former partner to be hospitalised after he brutally assaulted her. They were also aware that Trigg’s former partner Caroline Devlin had died in bed with him five years before, but they did not consider her death suspicious. Trigg was
convicted of the murder of Susan and the manslaughter of Caroline in July 2017, after six years of campaigning by Susan’s parents. Trigg is serving a 25-year sentence for the deaths.

Susan’s father Peter said: “We are so relieved that the court has come to this decision, and that there will now be a full inquest into the police’s failings surrounding the death of our daughter. Susan was cruelly taken away from us nine years ago, and yet it has taken this long for the authorities to be questioned about the role they played in her death. Sussex Police have made this process much harder and more stressful by arguing against our request for a fuller inquest and threatening us with a large bill of costs if we had not been successful. We want to know whether Susan’s death could have been prevented, so that this doesn’t happen again and other families don’t have to go through the pain and distress that we have.”

Peter and Elizabeth Skelton are represented by Alice Hardy and Fiona Bowen of Hodge Jones & Allen and Heather Williams QC of Doughty Street Chambers.

Alice Hardy, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “I am so relieved that the court have come to this decision. Susan’s parents have fought so hard already; they didn’t need this further battle. It is regrettable that Sussex Police decided to contest their application for a full inquest, particularly after the years they had already spent fighting for Trigg to be properly investigated for Susan’s death. If it wasn’t for them, Trigg would never have been convicted for the murder and manslaughter of two women. He would have been free to continue committing violence against women. Now, thanks to them, there will be an opportunity to examine whether Susan’s death could have been prevented. I hope that this means that lessons will be learnt, so that victims of domestic violence are better protected in future. I am immensely grateful to my clients’ barrister, Heather Williams QC, whose extraordinary advocacy ensured that the court came to the right decision.”

The full judgment is available here.

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