Northamptonshire Police admit ‘mistakes’ in domestic abuse case

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A public apology has been made by Northamptonshire Police to the daughter of a pensioner who died in an arson attack six years ago.

Mavis Clift, aged 75, formerly of Washington Street, Kingsthorpe, died on New Year’s Day in 2008 after her son-in-law, Paul Barber, poured petrol through the letterbox of 
her property and then set it alight.

An inquest into her death is currently being held at County Hall and, on Monday, evidence was given by Susan Robinson, Barber’s former wife who he became “obsessed” with during the period from April 2007 to the night of the fire.

Mrs Robinson said she had parted with Barber in Spring 2007 after he told her he had another woman and asked her to move out of their shared property in Northampton.

The inquest heard that Barber started harassing Mrs Robinson from the end of April and the first major incident was when he confronted her at her workplace in the canteen of the University of Northampton.

Mrs Robinson said she called the police as Barber’s sister, Paula Lloyd-Chamberlain, had told her that he had threatened to kill her.

Barber’s harassment of his ex-wife then continued in the next few months as he stalked his wife on her way to work, climbed into her back garden and poured paint over her car.

In June 2007, he was arrested after he taped fireworks together and lit them outside her parents’ house in Washington Street, where Mrs Robinson was living.

Mrs Robinson gave a statement to police in July in which she said Barber’s behaviour was having a severely detrimental impact on her life as she was terrified of going out of the house and could not sleep.

She told officers that the fireworks incident “could have resulted in fire injury or worse”.

The inquest heard that in August, Mrs Robinson’s tyres were slashed and in October her step-father Bill Clift was attacked by Barber as he walked to pick up his step-daughter from work.

Following the attack Mrs Robinson gave a statement to police in which she said she “lived in fear” of Barber.

Mrs Robinson said the only way she felt safe was if she barricaded herself in her own room.

The inquest heard that Barber was finally charged with harassment in December 2007 but pleaded not guilty. The case was then adjourned until January 24, 2008.

Mrs Robinson suffered severe burns in the fire and was in a coma for three months and spent a further two months recuperating in a specialist burns unit.

Once Mrs Robinson had finished giving evidence Stephen Morley, the solicitor representing the chief constable of Northamptonshire Police, said the force acknowledged that mistakes were made in her case.

He said: “We are sorry for the mistakes we made and the fact we did not serve you and your family in the manner we should have done in May, June and July 2007. One of the reasons I am here is to listen to what you have to say so we can learn lessons from what happened and make sure this never happens again in the way we treat victims of domestic violence.”

The inquest continues.