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Inquest into the murder of Emma Day by her former partner concludes as coroner notes systemic failures by the MPS and DWP

Maya Sikand QC was instructed by Sarah Kellas of Birnberg Peirce to represent the family of Emma Day, a dedicated mother of two young children, who was brutally murdered in the street by her ex-partner and father of her second child, Mark Morris, in May 2017 as she collected the children from school. The attack was fuelled by arguments over child support payments – all the evidence confirmed that the issue of child maintenance payments was the most significant precursor to death.  

Emma, who was struggling financially, following years of coercive and controlling behaviour from her former partner which included economic abuse, applied to the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) (for which the DWP is responsible) to ensure that she got basic support from her ex-partner, in the best interests of their child. This simple step tragically resulted in her murder. A Domestic Homicide Review (‘DHR’), published in March 2019, identified “systemic issues in relation to how domestic violence and abuse are addressed by the Child Maintenance Service” and stated that its management of Emma’s case was “inadequate”. It also noted that 27 days elapsed between Emma’s report to the MPS in April 2016 of her ex-partner’s threats to her and any substantive contact with Emma.  

The Senior Coroner found that in April 2016, the MPS recorded and seized evidence of abusive texts in breach of the Malicious Communications Act, which was arrestable at time, but no arrest was made. 

He found that the perpetrator should have been arrested and interviewed in 2016 but was not because of a dispute between borough commands as to which had the duty to investigate. He accepted that arrest is a tool to disrupt the commission of future offences and thus was an action that potentially could have prevented further violence. He found that on 3rd  of November 2016 a CMS caseworker was informed that Emma wished to withdraw her claim because her ex-partner had threatened her life if she continued with it. Emma renewed her claim out of financial desperation on the 16th of May 2017. The Coroner found that there was a failure by the CMS to escalate action when knowledge of the specific threat was known. 

He concluded that there was a system failure in the CMS in handling reports of domestic violence which included the absence of a system in place to deal with concerns that there was of potentially fatal domestic violence triggered by applications for maintenance. He found that that had the death threat been communicated to the police by the CMS this may have led to a different outcome. Evidence before the coroner indicated that approximately 50% of applications to the CSM are made by victims of domestic abuse. 

He also found the MPS delay in acting following Emma’s earlier report of threats to kill, dented her confidence and that these police failings may have possibly contributed to her death. 

The DHR had recommended an urgent independent review of CMS policy and procedure related to domestic violence. The inquest heard that this had still not taken place over two years later, although it was now imminent. The Coroner indicated that he would make a Regulation 28 report to deal with the current deficit in the CMS guidance to its caseworkers in the interim.  

 Lorna McNamara, Emma’s sister said:  

“This inquest into the agencies my sister, Emma Day, had contact with in the year leading up to her death was of extreme importance to us, her family. 

We felt that the MPS and DWP had failed her.  

The MPS did not take her seriously when she reported the domestic violence, she was experiencing a year before her death. Their lack of action lead to Emma losing confidence in the MPS and not reporting further threats in the week before her murder. We want other women in similar situations to Emma’s to know that the police will respond in a positive and productive way. 

The child maintenance service should have more training for staff on how to deal with callers who are victims of domestic violence. For Emma, it’s too late, but if we help other women who find themselves in the same position, then something positive can come from the tragic loss we have experienced”. 

Sarah Kellas and Maya Sikand QC, said: 

“This inquest is of real significance to those women who are suffering from coercive control and violence, and in particular economic and financial abuse. It has highlighted the serious impact police inaction can have on the confidence of those brave enough to report threats of violence and the urgent need for the DWP to ensure that proper systems and training are in place for those processing child maintenance applications. The statistics show that around 50% [1] of those applying for child maintenance are survivors of DV – those individuals and their children have a right to safe access of the CMS. In this case Emma was brave enough to speak out but was not heard. The family hope that Emma’s tragic death will lead to learning, and safer procedures being implemented so that another tragedy can be averted”.  

Harriet Wistrich, director of Centre for Women’s Justice said, 

“This is yet another femicide that might have been prevented if better systems for responding to allegations of domestic abuse were in place. We hope that learning from this tragic outcome can help prevent future deaths, and there will be adequate resourcing to institute a national femicide oversight mechanism through the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office”.