Family of murdered Maria Stubbings vow to fight on

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Maria Stubbings
Image caption,
Maria Stubbings was "terribly let down" by police, says her brother

Police have been criticised by the watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission for their handling of the case of a woman murdered by her ex-boyfriend, who was a convicted killer.

As the second anniversary of 50-year-old Maria Stubbings' death, her family have spoken to the BBC about their ordeal and their plans to keep fighting in her name.

Maria Stubbings was strangled in her Chelmsford home, in Essex, by convicted killer Marc Chivers.

Her daughter Celia Peachey, who is 30 and an actress, describes her mother as her "best friend".

"We had our difficulties because we were both very strong characters. She was loyal, trustworthy, funny, kind and never judged anyone. She was just brilliant fun with a really kind heart."

It was early in 2008 that Maria began the brief relationship which led to her death.

That summer she contacted the police and told them that Marc Chivers had assaulted her. He was arrested and charged. She then learned about his murderous past - he had served 15 years in Germany for the murder of another woman.

That autumn, after pleading guilty to the assault charge, Chivers was released from prison.

Maria Stubbings had been assessed as being at a high risk of violence from Chivers. Yet by the time he came out of jail, Essex Police had removed the personal safety alarm which had been installed at her home.

Two months later, and just a few days after Maria had reported to police that Chivers had broken into her home, he strangled her with a dog lead.

Celia's 15-year-old brother was in the house with Chivers after the murder, unaware his mother was lying dead, her body covered over in a downstairs toilet.

Celia says: "After my mum was killed he was in the house with my mum's murderer and was being followed around so he wouldn't find [her] body. And if he had, I would not have my little brother - you know, double loss."

Maria's brother, Manuel Fernandez, says the report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirms officially what the family had known for two years.

"Unfortunately she was terribly let down. To me it's astounding. There were too many clues, too much knowledge of a convicted murderer. She was a very high-risk person and she should have been awarded the protection that everybody in the public deserves."

And Celia adds: "She was a woman alone who was crying out for help. The signs were clearly there.

"It was almost signposted. It was almost neon lights and she was completely ignored and neglected and as a result I'm left alone without a mother and so is my little brother, who is lucky he is alive today."

The IPCC report, published on Tuesday, calls for greater controls on criminals like Chivers who have committed offences abroad.

Manuel says: "I think that is obviously a gap in the law that does need to be addressed. However, in my sister's circumstances I don't think that is the main issue at all.

"It would have been the issue had the police and the authorities not known any details or data regarding my sister's murderer. But they clearly did. And furthermore he assaulted her prior to killing her."

Manuel and Celia have been working closely with the charity Refuge which helps victims of domestic violence.

Image caption,
Marc Chivers served 15 years in Germany for murder before being deported back to the UK

Its chief executive Sandra Horley agrees that the focus should not be on a change in the law.

"This is just yet another excuse for police failures to handle victims of domestic violence appropriately.

"This is a red herring. It has absolutely nothing to do with this case. The police knew he was a killer. She knew he was a killer. She begged for help. She didn't get it. It is very very simple, let's not complicate things by saying the law needed to be changed."

Manuel says the family are unhappy with the quality of the IPCC report and believe it focuses too much on junior members of staff.

In response, IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said they carried out a thorough investigation.

"As a result of our investigation we are urging the government to close a gap in the law which we believe would afford greater protection to vulnerable women. We have found a number of serious failings in Essex Police with recommendations for improvements, and agreed misconduct and performance matters in relation to specific officers and a member of police staff.

"The findings have been discussed and their significance underlined at a senior level in Essex Police. I hope our findings will contribute to improving police responses on domestic violence cases in future and bring about stronger protection for potential victims through a change in the law."

Maria's family plan to take civil action against the authorities, and say they will call for an inquest into Maria's death.

Celia adds: "We also want to channel our energy into helping other people. People need to be able to trust the system. And in Mum's name we will move forward triumphantly."

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