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Children seek damages over murder of their mother

John McFarlane "savagely" murdered Mary Griffiths Photo:

The children of a woman who was "tragically and savagely" murdered by a stalker have brought a damages action over her death.

Mary Griffiths, a "wonderful mother and a kind and thoughtful woman", was dragged from her bed by John McFarlane, who was armed with an axe, and shot in the chest with a captive bolt gun used for killing cattle, the High Court London heard today.

Nicholas Bowen QC told Mr Justice Ouseley that McFarlane, who is serving a minimum term of 20 years, broke into her home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in the early hours of May 6 2009, where she was asleep with her three daughters, Jessica, 13, Hannah, 10, and nine-year-old Sophie.

The 40-year-old slaughterman had been stalking and harassing the terrified 38-year-old fitness instructor in the days before the killing and she had called the police at 5.56pm the day before, wanting 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. A call was made at 6.26pm on May 5 to the crisis team informing them of the escalating situation by a friend but the call was not picked up until the following morning. The primary responsibility was of course McFarlane's but we say the murder was preventable."

– Nicholas Bowen QC
Mary Griffiths

Mr Bowen said that had McFarlane been detained on May 3 under the Mental Health Act or proper steps been taken by either or both Suffolk Police and Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust in accordance with their protective obligations under human rights law and the common law, the murder would not have occurred.

But Jeremy Johnson QC, for the Chief Constable of Suffolk, said the issue was whether his officers, or the force civilian staff, knew or ought to have known on May 5 that there was a real and immediate risk to Ms Griffiths's life and, if so, whether they failed to take reasonable steps in response.

"The police have enormous sympathy for the claimants. They are utterly blameless.Their mother was utterly blameless. They have suffered a dreadful tragedy and loss. They have a right to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, albeit, of course, nothing can begin to remedy their loss.

"However, it is respectfully submitted that they have not shown that the police acted unlawfully."

– Jeremy Johnson QC

Mr Johnson said it could not be established that the police knew, or ought to have known, that there was a real and immediate risk.

"On the evening of May 5 2009, the police received a call from Mary who was concerned that John McFarlane was calling her and texting her. They arranged for officers to attend the following day and Mary said `that will be fine'.

"Nothing in the contact between the police and Mary, and no other information available to the police, established that there was a real and immediate risk to Mary's life.

"The claim therefore falls to be dismissed."

The contested case is due to last two days.