An inquest into the death of 23-year-old Gracie Spinks in Duckmanton, Derbyshire, has found that she was unlawfully killed by a man she had reported for stalking her. The story of how Michael Sellers was left free to carry out the killing is one of police failings and multiple missed opportunities.
Video report by Michael Billington. Words by Tony Earnshaw.
The warning signs were there.
Michael Sellers' troubling behaviour towards women manifested long before he met Gracie Spinks.
Eight women had made complaints.
One quit her job because of his unwanted attention. She later saw him parked near her home at night.
Another changed her address and her car – but Sellers still managed to track her down.
A third was repeatedly pestered for a date. When she told him to stop, Sellers set up a fake account to stalk her on Instagram.
He was variously described as "creepy" and "hostile". He used company CCTV to spy on women as they worked.
Gracie became one of those women in April 2020 when she joined e-commerce firm Xbite in Derbyshire. Sellers, 35, was her supervisor.
Living at home with his parents, he was described by colleagues as quiet, shy, and "very introverted", but someone who would "latch onto someone who gave him attention".
Soon after Gracie began working alongside him, Sellers started to show an interest.
They were friendly, messaging each other, meeting outside work. They went on a walk together and even visited each others homes.
But in the run-up to Christmas 2020 Sellers' behaviour took a sinister turn.
Calling at her home with items she had asked him to bring, he kissed her and tried to climb on top of her. Gracie asked him to stop, and to leave.
The next day she told him she wasn't interested in a relationship and blocked him on social media.
But Sellers wouldn't give up. He responded by stalking Gracie, pestering her for messages, watching her movements on company CCTV, and even going so far as to ask a co-worker to spy on her.
Four days after Gracie blocked his calls and messages, Sellers parked up near the paddock where her horse was stabled. She saw him, drove past without stopping, and reported the incident to her bosses.
HR managers at Xbite launched an investigation and found that Sellers "lacked insight" into the impact of his behaviour.
An operations manager who investigated Gracie's claims said Sellers showed "no remorse".
'He's been following me': Gracie reported Michael Sellers to police in January 2021
He said: "He did not recognise that he was doing anything wrong and as I investigated this, there were so many red flags, Gracie saying no, being asked to be left alone, him waiting in a lay-by, just so many red flags.
"There were just red flags all over the place."
Just over three weeks later, Sellers was dismissed.
The following month, having reflected on what had happened, Gracie reported Sellers' "weird" behaviour to Derbyshire Police via the non-emergency 101 number.
She told the call handler: "As soon as I called it off, he was getting weirder and weirder.
"He’s been following me on the cameras at work. They’ve seen him do it.
"He’s done it to other girls at the warehouse, which I didn’t know. Every single time it’s got weirder and weirder."
Sellers was spoken to by an inexperienced constable but was not formally interviewed. Bodycam footage of the meeting was not retained. Crucially, Xbite’s disciplinary file on Sellers was not requested. At Gracie's inquest, the final crime report was described as "not very good" by a more senior officer.
Police made the decision to shut down the stalking investigation as Gracie did not support a prosecution. Sellers was deemed a "standard" risk as he had not made threats of violence and was not known to the force previously.
As a consequence he was given "words of advice" about his behaviour.
Then, on 6 May, on a track across the road from the field where Gracie kept her horse, dog walker Anna Walker found a bag full of weapons, which she handed in to police.
The brown rucksack contained knives, an axe, and a hammer as well as a note that read "Don't lie!"
Officers dismissed the weapons as bushcraft tools.
Ms White said she was "totally stunned" at the officers' lack of reaction to what she showed them. No further action was taken.
Gracie’s mother, Alison Heaton, said police "did not join up the dots".
Det Ch Insp Claudia Musson told the inquest that the bag of weapons clearly should have been viewed with "concern".
She said: "I don’t think anyone who saw the items could reasonably argue they are not weapons that could cause harm.
"All those items together is a concern."
Gracie Spinks: A timeline of missed opportunities
April 2020: Gracie Spinks starts work at e-commerce firm Xbite, where she meets Michael Sellers
October 2020: The two begin messaging each other. They meet a handful of times outside work
December 2020: Sellers visits Gracie at her home and forces himself on her
16 December 2020: Gracie messages Sellers to break things off
31 December 2020: Gracie blocks Sellers on social media
4 January 2021: Gracie reports Sellers to police after seeing him parked in a lay-by close to her horse’s stable. She informs her employers
27 January 2021: Sellers is dismissed by Xbite for gross misconduct. An internal investigation finds evidence of "past issues" over Sellers’ inappropriate behaviour towards eight other female co-workers
February 2021: Gracie telephones the police to complain that Sellers is stalking her. She fears he might try and kidnap someone and that he has become "obsessed"
18 February 2021: Police close the stalking case
6 May 2021: A dog walker finds a bag of weapons close to Gracie’s stable yard. Also in the bag is the sexual stimulant Viagra and a note saying "Don't lie!".
18 June 2021: Gracie is discovered in a paddock at Blue Lodge Farm at 8.13am. She has been stabbed 10 times. Sellers’ body is found half a mile away on Tom Lane just after 11am. He died from self-inflicted suffocation.
On the morning of 18 June Gracie left home early to go and see her horse, Paddy, at Blue Lodge Farm at Duckmanton near Chesterfield.
Just after 8am she was found lying on the ground. A man was seen running away.
Gracie had been stabbed 10 times, including a fatal wound to the neck. Paramedics tried to save her but she had suffered "catastrophic" bleeding.
A knife was found close to where she was discovered.
Gracie died at about 8.50am.
Sellers was found dead in a nearby field around two hours later. Police said his death was not thought to be suspicious but said the incidents were connected.
Derbyshire Police later referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which it said was because it had had contact with Gracie earlier in the year.
Chesterfield MP, Toby Perkins, said there were "many questions for the police and other authorities".
The IOPC later served disciplinary notices on five officers. A sergeant and constable were investigated over their handling of the stalking allegation.
And three other officers were said to be under investigation over the steps they took after the bag of weapons was discovered in May near where Gracie was later found stabbed.
Speaking at the inquest at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court Det Supt Darren De’ath, who leads Derbyshire Constabulary’s public protection team, made a formal apology to Gracie’s family and friends.
He said he was "appalled" at the way the force had "failed" to record and retain information after Gracie’s stalking report in February 2021, and Ms White’s report of the bag of weapons found the month before Gracie was killed.
He said: "I deeply regret what has happened, I deeply regret that we could and should have done better.
"I understand it is no consolation to yourselves, but I am truly sorry."
In the aftermath of Gracie’s death her parents Alison Heaton and Richard Spinks presented MPs with a petition calling for more support for victims of stalking.
The petition calling for Gracie’s Law, which had more than 105,000 signatures, called for funding for police forces to provide advocates to support victims of stalking, and to help officers investigate cases more thoroughly.
Mr Spinks said: "It's basic policing skills that let Gracie down on this occasion.
"But there have probably been other incidents that we don't know about. So the whole business of reporting and logging and investigating has got to be shaken up."
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