A former police sergeant in charge of two officers who attended a call about a bag of weapons found a month before Gracie Spinks was killed said he feels a “fool” and wishes he could “change the past”.
Lee Richards, who worked at Derbyshire Police from 1992 until he retired in August last year, gave evidence on Wednesday at the inquest into the death of 23-year-old Ms Spinks, who is believed to have been stabbed to death by her “obsessed” colleague Michael Sellers, 35, as she tended to her horse at Blue Lodge Farm in Duckmanton, Derbyshire, on June 18 2021.
The inquest, at Chesterfield Coroners Court, earlier heard from Pc Jill Lee-Liggett and Pc Ashley Downing, who had both attended the home of Anna White, the member of public who discovered a bag of weapons on a farm track on May 6 2021.
The officers both said that when they took the bag – which contained knives, a hammer, an axe, Viagra and a note saying ‘don’t lie’ as well as a Marks and Spencer’s receipt for items that had been purchased by Sellers’ father – back to the station for advice, Mr Richards told them to book it in as “lost and found” property so the items could eventually be destroyed, rather than investigating further.
In his evidence, Mr Richards said he was “blindsided by previous experience” of policing in the rural area and assumed that the bag of weapons belonged to someone who had been chopping wood in the countryside.
He said with hindsight, knowing what happened to Ms Spinks weeks after the bag was found, he felt a “fool” and said it could be said that he “got it wrong”.
He said: “When we’ve dealt with knives before, it’s usually because it’s on someone’s person or in a house.
“There was no obvious link to anything. Many knives have been handed into police before and they get sent for destruction.
“At the time, it just looked like someone was out in the countryside.
“I didn’t know why they left it, but I didn’t see how it was a threat to anyone.
“It sounds so foolish when you listen to it now, I think I was blindsided by previous experience.
“Stabbings are quite rare in Derbyshire, it’s the location, out in the countryside, not near where anyone lives.
“If it was on someone’s doorstep, it would be different. It is hard to look back at knowing it was so wrong.
“The area is decent, things like this don’t tend to happen, so maybe you get a bit blase about it.
“At the time, they were the conclusions I came to, but now I feel a fool. I do.”
Coroner Matthew Kewley asked Mr Richards why, at the time, he was not “clamouring” to find out more information about the circumstances of the bag’s discovery and why he did not send Pc Lee-Leggitt and Pc Downing to go to the farm track where it was found.
He said: “I don’t know the answer to that one.
“At the time, this was found stuff. Everything in the bag, you could go down the shop and buy these in Chesterfield.
“I don’t know why I didn’t ask them to go back out there, but I wish I had. I didn’t know there were any farms nearby until much later.”
Mr Richards was also asked why the Marks and Spencer’s receipt was not pursued further.
He said: “The only line of enquiry was the receipt, but obviously it doesn’t have a full bank card number on, so to obtain that information you’d have to get it from the bank and apply for a production order from the court and at the time, I didn’t think it was proportionate.
“At no time did I think the bag belonged to someone who would do something bad. I can’t change the past, I wish I could.
“We didn’t have a crime, it can be argued that there could be a crime of possession of an offensive weapon, but that would usually be if it was found with a person, not something that was just found.
“I didn’t believe we would get anything from a production order because we weren’t investigating a crime.”
Mr Richards also disputed a claim by Pc Lee-Liggett that she was not asked by the sergeant to create an intelligence log, which would have saved the details of the bag, what was in it and where it was found, on the system.
He said: “I can remember telling the pair of them to put some intelligence in.
“I didn’t check that they had done it because I trusted them to do it.
“I wouldn’t normally [check] anyway, I would just trust them to do what was requested.
“I am disappointed they didn’t.”
The inquest continues.