Derbyshire police’s current head of its domestic violence unit has told a coroner’s court a ‘robust and thorough’ investigation was carried out over the Holbrook stabbings.
Det Supt Andrew Stokes, who was not in charge of the unit at the time of tragedy, was called to give evidence at the inquest into their deaths. A jury sitting at Derby and South Derbyshire Coroner’s Court is set to determine how the three died.
Det Supt Stokes was quizzed on whether he felt officers had taken the correct action - outlined in the constabulary’s own domestic violence mission statement – after Andrew Cairns was arrested on May 27, 2010, days before the deaths.
Earlier that day Mr Cairns was alleged to have made death threats towards Rachael, 38, as they played with their son, Auden, aged 23 months, which Mr Cairns denied doing, the inquest hadpreviously heard. Between 8pm and 10pm that night Mr Cairns had called his former partner 23 times, the jury was told. Mr Cairns was detained overnight and underwent two police interviews the following morning.
He was released on bail with strict conditions not to contact Miss Slack or Auden.
The mother and son were risk assessed by officers and deemed to be at a “high risk of homicide”.
Coroner Dr Robert Hunter quizzed Det Supt Stokes on whether Mr Cairns’ mobile phone should have been seized at that time to be analysed by the police’s High Tech Crime Unit.
Set Supt Stokes replied: “If I had have been investigating that, I would have taken the phone. But I would have put it through the appropriate processes within the organisation. I wouldn’t have just turned his phone on straight away and started looking through it.”
However, Mr Cairns’ mobile was only seized after the deaths on June 2. After analysis it was found to contain a text message to Miss Slack saying “If you don’t answer me I’m walking over.”
Dr Hunter asked Supt Stokes: “Why was it important to seize the phone after the deaths and it was not as important before the deaths?”
Supt Stokes replied: “I’m not sure the recovery of the phone would have prevented the deaths.”
But the coroner suggested the device contained evidence which might have been enough to charge Mr Cairns with making threats to kill - or the lesser offence of harassment. This, he claimed, coupled with Miss Slack’s written police statement in which she talked of being ‘stalked’ by Mr Cairns and the risk he posed to her life would have met the standard of proof needed to charge the former golf pro’ and possibly keep him detained.
Supt Stokes replied: “We do bail hundreds of people every week to gather more evidence so we can go to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) with sufficient evidence.
“The officer’s professional opinion was that there was not enough evidence to get a prosecution and therefore investigations would have to continue.”
Det Supt Stokes also said he did not believe the officers of the Domestic Violence Unit at the time suffered from ‘complacency’ despite having to deal with cases where threats to kill are made on a regular basis.
The exchanges between coroner Dr Hunter and Det Stokes moved to other actions that could have been taken by officers after Mr Cairns’ arrest on May 27, 2010.
Dr Hunter asked whether ‘cocoon watch’ could and should have been enacted, iwhereby Miss Slack’s neighbours could have been informed that she was considered a high risk from homicide. Mr Cairns breached the condition of his bail the day after being arrested by visiting Miss Slack’s home. She was not in but he was witnessed by a neighbour. Dr Hunter suggested that had Miss Slack’s neighbours known of her risk they would have known to call the police.
Det Supt Stokes replied: “There are a whole host of measures that we could have put in place and clearly that was one that could have, or should have been put in place at the time.”
He agreed with the coroner that other measures might have been appropriate, such as fitting a panic alarm to Miss Slack’s house or taking her and Auden to a safe house. But he reiterated that officers were forced to make a judgement at that time and did not have the benefit of hindsight.
He said it was unlikely Mr Cairns could have been arrested for suspicion of child abduction despite him having a dual citizenship passport with the United States.