Wiltshire Police have apologised to the family of shooting victim Victoria Rose after they criticised the force for not dealing with a domestic abuse complaint they say may have led to her death.
On Tuesday Coroner David Ridley recorded a verdict of unlawful killing after hearing how Mrs Rose’s body was found with gunshot wounds at the home of her former partner Bill Dowling at Moonrakers in Devizes on March 2 last year. He was also found dead at the scene by neighbours.
Mr Ridley recorded a narrative verdict on Mr Dowling, 59, a former Wiltshire Police inspector who served in Devizes and Marlborough before retiring.
He said Mr Dowling had been depressed and was signed off sick from his job with the Ministry of Defence at Upavon. He had lured Mrs Rose, 58, to his home with the pretence that he was ill and then shot her twice in the head before turning the gun on himself.
During the inquest it emerged that Mr Dowling’s ex-wife Pauline Simmons had been to the police when her marriage was breaking up and complained about his abusive behaviour.
She said in a statement to the inquest: “I recall the police officers came to the house and took me to the police station. They warned me about the fact that Bill could lose his job. I thought that the police were siding with Bill and protecting his career.”
After the inquest Mrs Rose’s son Johnathan, 33, said: “It was ‘swept under the carpet’ and allowed his abusive behaviour to continue. We believe William felt he could do as he pleased, as he never experienced any consequences.
“It created an environment where those closest to him learnt to ignore his behaviour and the risks he posed to our mum.”
After the inquest detective chief inspector Ian Saunders said: “The coroner mentioned a domestic abuse allegation against Mr Dowling from a previous partner in 1998.
“We acknowledge that this was not properly dealt with and fell well below the standards we would have expected from all our officers when dealing with domestic abuse at that time. Since that time our policy and procedures for dealing with domestic abuse incidents have been significantly improved and updated.
“The force policy and procedure in this important area continues to be regularly reviewed in line with national best practice.
"All officers receive comprehensive training regarding domestic abuse and are now required to carry out and record detailed risk assessments of the victim’s and any other vulnerable person’s safety and take positive action to prevent harm.
“Wiltshire Police has changed a great deal from when this incident happened, although it is with regret that we acknowledge that it was inappropriately dealt with.
Yesterday Chief Superintendent Kier Pritchard said the force will come down heavily on any officer found guilty of domestic abuse.
“A report involving a serving officer or a member of police staff will receive great scrutiny and attention today and we will ensure that any person we believe to be involved in domestic abuse is treated in the same way as a member of the public.
“If it’s appropriate sitting alongside that would be an internal investigation.”
Asked if the police had apologised to the Rose family, he said: “The culture of the police service was different in 1988. We didn’t do what we were expected to do and that was regrettable.
"We have engaged with the family and have been engaging with them all the way through.
“I think the important part is to reassure them how Wiltshire police provision has changed in relation to domestic abuse since 1988. I’m happy to meet with the family and talk through any of their concerns and listen to any anxieties and issues that they may have.”
The deaths of Mr Dowling and Mrs Rose came after the death of Devizes solicitor James Ward, who was shot by Michael Chudley in July 2 2012 with a sawn-off shotgun.
But although weapons were used in both cases Chief Supt Pritchard said the two cases were different from each other and Wiltshire was a safe place to live in.
He said: “Whilst these are high profile cases, the public can feel safe in Wiltshire. Gun crime in this county is very small in comparison with other areas.
“If a member of the police service retires in good health and they are member of the Police Federation then they are already provided some support and counselling through the National Association for Retired Police Officers.
“If they are receiving support from our internal occupational health department at the point of retiring those support services are maintained. Should an officer need the support of our internal occupational health then that door is open.”