The murder of a mother was ‘preventable’, had action been taken by police and mental health staff, London’s High Court heard today.
Fitness instructor Mary Griffiths, 38, was shot dead by John McFarlane in front of her three daughters at her Bury St Edmunds home in May 2009, hours after she phoned police to say she was scared.
Her daughters Jessica, 22, Hannah, 19, and Sophie, 18, are suing the chief constable of Suffolk Police and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust for damages.
They claim that, had steps been taken by police or the trust, their mother’s death would not have happened.
Opening their case at the High Court, their barrister Nicholas Bowen QC said Mrs Griffiths was ‘terrified’ when she called police about McFarlane, who had been stalking and harassing her.
The trust had decided not to detain him under the Mental Health Act on May 3.
“Mary called the police at 5.56pm on May 5 – she was terrified, she wanted to them to come out but, for reasons that we will investigate in this trial, they decided not to prioritise the call and did not attend.
“The primary responsibility was of course his (McFarlane’s), but we say the murder was preventable,” he said.
The police force and the trust deny the claims.
Lawyers for the chief constable said police had ‘absolutely no reason’ to believe McFarlane would kill Mrs Griffiths.
In a written defence, Jeremy Johnson QC said: “He obviously posed a risk to himself. But there was nothing to suggest he would murder Mrs Griffiths.”
Angus Moon QC, for the trust, said staff believed McFarlane might harm himself but they did not know he was stalking or harassing Mrs Griffiths and, based on the evidence at the time, had no reason to suspect he was a danger to others.
“None of the trust’s staff considered that McFarlane posed a risk to others as opposed to himself,” he added.
McFarlane and Mrs Griffiths argued on May 5, after he wrote on Facebook claiming they had been a couple.
Early on May 6 he used an axe to smash into her home in Bulrush Crescent and dragged her outside, where he shot her twice with a bolt gun.
Her girls, aged 13, 10 and nine at the time, witnessed the murder.
McFarlane was later jailed for life with a minimum term of 20 years.
The High Court hearing continues.