Police apologise for 'failings' during probe into abuse victim's death

Police apologise to family of domestic abuse victim, 34, who they said should have ‘used her legs’ to escape partner before he killed her

  • Suzanne Van Hagen, 34, was murdered by abusive partner John Worton in 2013
  • Police initially told family it was murder but told the press it was drugs overdose
  • Family battled to reveal the truth and 2017 review showed evidence was missed
  • A 2019 inquiry found marks on her neck were as a result of violence from Worton 
  • Now West Midlands Police Chief Sir David Thompson has apologised for failings

Suzanne Van Hagen was murdered, aged 34, by her abusive partner John Worton in February 2013 

Police have apologised to the family of a domestic abuse victim who officers said should have ‘used her legs’ to escape the violent partner who killed her.

Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Sir David Thompson, said he was ‘deeply sorry for the many failings’ surrounding the investigation into the murder of Suzanne Van Hagen.

The 34-year-old and her abusive partner John Worton, 37, were found dead by her nine-year-old daughter at their home in their in Frankley, Worcestershire, in February 2013. 

Officers initially told family members Ms Van Hagen, who was found with marks around her neck, had been murdered.

But they later released a press release – widely covered in local and national media – saying that their deaths were due to an accidental overdose of drugs taken during a sex game.

A battle ensued with the family launching a campaign to reveal the truth behind Ms Van Hagen’s tragic death.

It is during this period, the family say that they told officers Ms Van Hagen had been the victim of domestic abuse by Worton.

They say a female police liaison officer replied: ‘Your sister had two legs and she should have used them.’

After a lengthy campaign by the family, a police review in 2017 found that the Senior Investigating Officer in the case had failed to make proper enquiries about marks to Ms Van Hagen’s neck when her body was discovered.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority also concluded in 2019 that the marks were an act of violence committed by Worton.

Now Chief Constable Sir David has issued a public apology to Ms Van Hagen’s family, addressing what he described as a ‘number of failings’ by the force. 

He said: ‘On behalf of West Midlands Police, I wish to apologise for a number of failings by the force in the handling of Suzanne’s case, both before and after her death, and to acknowledge the immense, additional distress that this has caused to Suzanne’s family. 

Chief Constable Sir David has issued a public apology to Ms Van Hagen’s family, addressing what he described as a ‘number of failings’ by the force

‘We deeply regret a number of missed opportunities to investigate Suzanne’s circumstances more widely and to engage with her. 

‘We could and should have done more to protect Suzanne and her daughter from the abuse they were suffering.

To compound the family’s pain, they were let down by a failure to properly investigate Suzanne’s death. 

‘I am deeply sorry for the many failings identified in 2017 when the Force conducted a full review of the investigation.’

Addressing the misleading press release, he said: ‘I particularly recognise how hurtful and distressing the inaccurate press release issued in March 2013 must have been for the family. 

‘This influenced the subsequent press coverage and an incorrect narrative was created about Suzanne’s death that was difficult to shift.

He added: ‘Suzanne’s family have had to engage in a long and arduous fight to understand the full truth about what happened to Suzanne. We deeply regret this.

‘I can only hope that these words provide some reassurance to Suzanne’s family that the force has reflected on, and learnt from, its serious shortcomings.  

West Midlands Police also say they have paid ‘substantial’ damages to the family.

An inquest in 2014 revealed Worton was diagnosed with schizophrenia and suffered paranoia and auditory hallucinations. He had a history of being abusive to former partners.

A post mortem found he had taken a lethal dose of paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA) – also known as Dr Death. 

But after police sent out a press release saying that Ms Van Hagen had also died of an overdose, the family launched a fight to find out the truth.

They successfully appealed for a Domestic Homicide Review with the help of the charity Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse (AAFDA).

In 2017 an internal review by West Midlands Police found the officer in charge of investigating Ms Van Hagen’s death failed to make proper enquiries about marks to Suzanne’s neck. 

An inquest in 2014 revealed Worton (pictured here with Ms Van Hagen) was diagnosed with schizophrenia and suffered paranoia and auditory hallucinations. He had a history of being abusive to former partners. A post mortem found he had taken a lethal dose of paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA) – also known as Dr Death. But after police sent out a press release saying that Ms Van Hagen had also died of an overdose, the family launched a fight to find out the truth

And the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority concluded in 2019 that the marks around Suzanne’s neck were not caused by a sexual act but by a crime of violence perpetrated by Worton.

Suzanne’s mother, Ann Van Hagen, said in a statement: ‘My beautiful daughter Suzanne deserves to be remembered as she was, not as this person who the police tried to portray her as.

‘Suzanne was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people you could ever meet.

‘She loved spending time with her family and kept a very wide and long-standing network of friends.

‘She worked hard to build a career for herself in insurance so that she could enjoy a good life with her daughter. 

‘Sometimes I think she is still with us which makes it easier to cope. We miss her every single day.’

AAFDA CEO Frank Mullane said: ”The only credible conclusion is that Suzanne was killed by domestic abuse. 

‘How many other deaths, in domestic circumstances, following violent crime, have been inadequately investigated?’

The family’s lawyer Sarah Ricca, of Deighton Pierce Glynn, added: ‘This is a truly shocking case that starkly highlights the institutional discrimination women continue to face from the police in relation to domestic violence.’

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