On 25 August 2015, Shana Grice was found dead in her home. An inquest was opened and later suspended when a murder charge was brought against Ms Grice’s former boyfriend, Michael Lane, whom Ms Grice had previously made complaints about to Sussex Police. Mr Lane was found guilty of Ms Grice’s murder on 22 March 2017. Thereafter, a number of reviews and investigations were launched into the conduct of Sussex Police. The family of Ms Grice then asked the Coroner to resume the inquest pursuant to Article 2 of the ECHR. The Coroner refused. In R (on the application of Grice) v HM Senior Coroner of Brighton and Hove  EWHC 3581 (Admin), the High Court held that the Coroner was entitled – and right – to do so.
Ms Grice and Mr Lane met at work in the summer of 2015. They started a relationship in the autumn, but this broke down later in the year. Ms Grice then resumed a relationship with her long-term boyfriend. Thereafter, she received harassment from Mr Lane, including slashed tyres and stalking. A complaint was made to Sussex Police and Mr Lane was issued with a warning.
Mr Lane was again reported to Sussex Police March 2016 for assaulting Ms Grice. She made a statement to the effect that the relationship she had with Mr Lane was platonic. However, Ms Grice would later admit that she had been in an intimate relationship with Mr Lane. No further action was taken by Sussex Police in respect of Mr Lane, whilst Ms Grice was fined for wasting police time by lying about her relationship with Mr Lane.
Shortly thereafter, Ms Grice made attempts to distance herself from Mr Lane, including leaving her job. Meanwhile, Mr Lane continued to harass Ms Grice, including making unsolicited visits to her house and, at some point, placing a tracker on her car. However, throughout 2016, it also appears that Ms Grice and Mr Lane continued a secret, periodic relationship. This became overt in June 2016 but broke down one month later. Ms Grice then began seeing her long-term boyfriend again, whilst seeing Mr Lane in secret.
In July 2016, Ms Grice made numerous complaints to Sussex Police about Mr Lane, including that he had took a key from her house which he used to enter her home and that he continued to follow Ms Grice to work. In mid-August 2016, Ms Grice and Mr Lane spent a few hours together at a local hotel. They appear to have ended their relationship at this point.
On 25 August 2016, Ms Grice did not attend work. She was checked on by a relative of her boyfriend at her home. Ms Grice’s body was found on her bed, her throat having been slit. In the subsequent criminal trial, it was found that Mr Lane had killed Ms Grice; moved her body to her bed; doused the room in petrol; and attempted to set it on fire (it failed to spread). Mr Lane also took Ms Grice’s bank card and withdrew some money from her account.
Following Mr Lane’s conviction, four investigations or reviews were held:
On 4 March 2019, the Grice family requested that the Coroner lift the suspension of the inquest and resume her investigation. She responded on 7 March 2019 declining to do so in light of the criminal trial. The family wrote to the Coroner again on 11 June 2019, attaching legal submissions in support of the resumption of the inquest. It was argued that the criminal trial of Mr Lane focused on the facts of the killing rather than on police conduct; the trial – and the investigations that followed – had failed to satisfy the State’s procedural obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR.
The Coroner produced a ruling on 3 January 2020 to the effect that she was not going to resume the inquest. She acknowledged that Article 2 was engaged following potential breach by Sussex Police to safeguard Ms Grice. However, she concluded that other investigations adequately covered the ground that an inquest would cover and were sufficient to meet the State’s Article 2 obligations.
The High Court’s Decision.
The Coroner’s decision was challenged by way of judicial review. On behalf of the Grice family, it was submitted that the previous reviews and investigations were inadequate in that they lacked independence, were ineffective, offered insufficient scrutiny and denied sufficient involvement of the Grice family. For example, it was argued that the criminal trial was more focused upon Mr Lane than the police’s conduct, whilst the DHR and IOPC investigations were held in private without the Grice family being present.
The High Court (Garnham J) dismissed the application. The Court noted that:
As Garnham J held, an Article 2-complaint investigation need not be in a particular form; it can be satisfied through a set of separate investigations. Moreover, though the family of the deceased should be involved in an investigation, this is only to the extent necessary to safeguard their interests: Article 2 does not mean that the investigation must satisfy every request from the family. Finally, Garnham J noted that public scrutiny does not mean that there must be a public hearing, nor that the family of the deceased are entitled to test the evidence.
Further, the Court held that so long as the investigations taken as a whole complied with Article 2, it did not matter if one of the investigations fell short. Indeed, Garnham J went on to note that a murder trial alone will typically meet the State’s article 2 obligations. An inquest would be exceptional. In any case, the Court observed, even a fully Article-2 complaint would not be able to undertake the detailed enquiry that the Grice family seek.
There are clear lessons to be learned by Sussex Police and other organisations about the investigation of Ms Grice’s complaint against Mr Lane. That the complainant is in an on-and-off again relationship with someone should not limit the extent to which the complaint is investigated.
Notwithstanding the mistakes Sussex Police made (which they now admit), the decision by the Coroner not to reopen the inquest is the correct one. As the High Court identified, Ms Grice’s murder has been subject to numerous investigations already, and it would be an over-reach were Article 2 be used to compel the Coroner to resume her investigation. Indeed, as Garnham J noted, one wonders what a new inquest could reveal that the previous investigations did not. Though it is within the power of the Coroner to produce a Prevention of Future Deaths report following the conclusion of an inquest, this would be rather toothless in light of the trial judge’s comments and the investigations into Sussex Police that followed Mr Lane’s conviction.
Ryan Ross is a third-six pupil at Farrar’s Building.