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PCs given improvement notices over death of teenage abuse victim


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Panel finds officers' approach to claims of harassment were "narrow and bespoke".


Katrina Makunova

Date - 10th September 2020
By - Gary Mason

Two PCs involved in the handling of a harassment case by a teenage abuse victim shortly before her death have been given a final written improvement notice and a written improvement notice respectively following a disciplinary hearing,

The ‘improvement notice’ system is a new term for the old written warning system which has been updated due to changes in the police complaints system to encourage internal learning.

A disciplinary hearing found that PC Sophie Dennis failed to fill out mandatory risk assessments for Katrina Makunova, and made a “premature and incorrect” decision to view her case as “non criminal”.

The 17-year-old died in July 2018 after falling onto a knife she was carrying in her handbag as she met her former partner Oluwaseyi Dada, 23, in Camberwell, south east London.

An IOPC investigation found failings in the action of 10 other officers, ranging in rank from PC to detective sergeant, in relation to their dealings with Miss Makunova.

Allegations against the conduct of PC Dennis and PC Kerry Lynham were made after they attended a domestic incident involving Ms Makunova on June 23 2018, body worn footage of which was shown to the panel.

Richard Atchley, representing PC Dennis, said that the officers had been “professional and proper” in their handling of the situation.

“It is very easy to be swayed by emotion when something tragic has happened,” he said.

“(Pc Dennis) is a proactive, involved officer and, with this exception, a very professional officer.

“She has not sought to duck and dive away from the responsibility.

“We all have bad days, and this was clearly one of hers.”

David Yeo, representing PC Lynham, highlighted that 27 officers had taken time to write “really considered” character statements for PC Dennis.

The officers said that when they met Ms Makunova on June 23, 2018 they had viewed the incident as “non criminal” and that no allegation of criminal harassment had been made by Ms Makunova.

But Commander Alison Heydari, chair of the disciplinary panel, said that the analysis by the officers had been “premature and incorrect.”

“The body worn footage shows a course of conduct that amounts to harassment,” she said.

Commander Heydari said that as a result of the officers’ analysis, the investigation had been “narrow and bespoke” and that opportunities to help Ms Makunova had been missed.

The officers referred Miss Makunova to a local domestic abuse support charity and suggested she take out a restraining order against Dada.

The panel heard how Ms Makunova had provided the officers with an incorrect date of birth, stating that she was 18, when in fact she was 17.

This meant PC Dennis did not fill out a separate safeguarding report because Ms Makunova was a child.

PC Dennis also admitted she had failed to fill out two mandatory risk assessments following the incident, but said she could not recall the reason why she had not.

The panel concluded that the allegations of gross incompetence were proven against PC Dennis due to her failure to fill out the appropriate risk assessments and providing false and misleading information on a crime report.

They concluded that Pc Lynham’s conduct was “unsatisfactory” but did not amount to gross incompetence.

The panel said that written improvement notices were “appropriate” punishments for the officers based on their previous records and character.

Ms Makunova’s mother attended the hearing with the help of a translator and shook her head as defence submissions were made.

PC Lynham was given a written improvement notice for 12 months “to improve and maintain” her conduct.

PC Dennis was given a final written improvement notice for 12 months, meaning a further mistake could warrant a dismissal.

After the hearing, Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) regional director Sal Naseem said: “By not doing their jobs in the way they were trained and paid to, PC Dennis and PC Lynham – and the other officers in this case – utterly failed Katrina Makunova and as a result, her family and friends.

“In addition, PC Dennis attempted to cover her tracks by lying about her investigative actions at the scene on a subsequent crime report and PC Lynham did nothing to stop this. This was unacceptable behaviour.”

Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said: “We expect all our officers to take allegations of domestic abuse extremely seriously and follow proper procedures to safeguard victims.

"We join policing to protect people like Miss Makunova and I am deeply ashamed that these officers failed her. My thoughts are with Miss Makunova's family and friends.”

View On Police Oracle


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