Authorities' failings meant boyfriend of dead Preston mum could never face murder charge
Delays in finding mother-of-three, Victoria Cherry, more than a year after she is believed to have died meant that her body was “severely decomposed“.
It meant her cause of death could not be established by a Home Office post-mortem examination as the pathologist was unable to say how injuries to her nose, cheekbone and larynx had been sustained due to the decomposition of her body.
Although her boyfriend Andrew Reade was arrested on suspicion of murdering Victoria after officers discovered her body in the boiler cupboard of the home they had shared in Bolton on January 16, 2017, there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
He was jailed in June 2017 for four years and four months at Bolton Crown Court for preventing a lawful and decent burial and preventing the course of public justice.
A Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) looking into the lessons to learn from the case found that agencies in contact with Victoria and Reade “did not work in partnership and barely communicated with each other”.
The revelations are laid out in the report published yesterday and the document, which refers to Victoria as Michelle and Reade as Scott for ‘ethical reasons’, states: “The failure of agencies in contact with Michelle and Scott to enquire about and share concerns in respect of Michelle’s sudden disappearance contributed to the delay in discovering Michelle’s body.
“The delay in discovering Michelle’s body meant that it was not possible to determine the cause of her death.
“If Scott did in fact murder her, the delay in finding her body enabled him to evade justice.”
According to the DHR report Victoria had been living with Reade up until her death which is believed to be on or after October 6, 2015 when she was last seen alive.
Victoria’s family told Lancashire Police she was missing on October 24, 2016 - over a year after any of them had heard from her.
However, although the force registered Victoria as a missing person, they did not search the last address where she was known to live until January 16, 2017 when Greater Manchester Police executed a search warrant of the Bolton address.
The report also found that up until the search of the house “the ineffectual approach to questioning Scott on November 4 and 20, 2016, may have provided him with a window of opportunity to consider disposing of Michelle’s body prior to any further contact from the police.”
It added: “Fortunately, he did not so.”
Findings reveal that agencies in contact with Victoria and Reade including Bolton Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service (BiDAS), the pharmacy (only referred to as ‘Pharmacy one’ in the report) and both of their GPs “did not work in partnership and barely communicated with each other”.
It states: “The absence of any contact by BiDAS with the pharmacy in order to make any enquiries once Michelle failed to collect her prescription and subsequently failed to attend BiDAS appointments is concerning.”
It continues: “The staff at Pharmacy 1 did not share their concerns about how unwell Michelle appeared to be on the last day she was seen alive with her GP or BiDAS or summon an ambulance.”
Findings also record that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suspended and then ceased Victoria’s benefits without carrying out all the checks required for a vulnerable claimant.
According to the report: “In general, the agencies in contact with Michelle and Scott did not consider the possibility that domestic abuse was present in their relationship whilst rigid silo working severely limited opportunities for sharing those concerns which arose from time to time.”
The DHR details how Victoria’s mum, Janet Hughes, expressed concerns about why it had taken so long for police to search Reade’s home and why checks on Victoria’s benefits and prescribed methadone had not been checked on ‘day one’ of the investigation.
She also told the review that Reade, who has a history of domestic abuse, “seemed to have some kind of hold over” Victoria and reflected that Victoria’s contact with the family diminished after she became involved with Reade.
Janet says that in August or September 2015 Victoria told her that Reade had been violent towards her and recalled Victoria saying Reade ‘had gone for her’ and said that ‘he does it regularly‘.
Documents state: “The ease with which Scott was able to conceal Michelle’s death is a matter of concern.
“Clearly she had become isolated after moving in [with Scott] and he appears to have greatly contributed to this isolation by restricting Michelle’s movements, limiting access to her family to telephone calls and text messages and exercising control over their money and decision making generally.”
As a result of the case the review panel has made 42 recommendations to nine organisations to act upon.
There are also five multi-agency recommendations, which are overseen by Bolton Be Safe Partnership.
Responding to the review and recommendations. Chief Supt Stuart Ellison, chairman of Be Safe Bolton Strategic Partnership, said: “This is a very tragic case and on behalf of the partnership, I would like to express our sincere condolences to the family.
“We commissioned the review to see if there were any lessons to be learned to improve the way we work together to protect victims of domestic abuse.
“The panel’s findings and recommendations have been shared with all the agencies involved in the review. Clearly there are things that could have been done better.
“Be Safe has developed a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations and we will ensure that we continue to work together with our partners to minimise risks to victims of domestic abuse.”
Detective Chief Inspector Mike Gladwin, of Lancashire Police’s Public Protection Unit, said: “First and foremost our thoughts remain with the family in this tragic case.
“We welcome the review and we participated fully with it as part of our commitment to learning and improving in any way we can to protect victims of domestic abuse.
“We recognise there are things that could have been done better in this case and we have introduced a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations and we will ensure that we continue to work together with our partners to minimise risks to victims of domestic abuse.”
The review found...
* Agencies in contact with Victoria failed to share concerns, which contributed to the delay in discovering her body.
* It found that there was an absence of partnership working particularly communication and information sharing.
* When Victoria disappeared, there was an absence of communication between the pharmacy which supervised her methadone prescription, the substance misuse service, BiDAS, and Victoria’s GP (BiDAS is no longer the provider of substance misuse services in Bolton, Achieve Bolton now provides this service).
* The pharmacy did not share their concerns about Victoria’s clinical deterioration.
* DWP suspended and then ceased her benefits without carrying out all the checks required for a vulnerable claimant.
* Lancashire Constabulary handled the early stages of the missing person enquiries unsatisfactorily and there was a repeated failure to search the place where Michelle was last seen.