Sunday, May 26, 2024

Investigation of threats toward murder victim ‘inadequate’

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Farzana Yaqubi was fatally stabbed by an East Tamaki man who was stalking her. Photo supplied

The police’s watchdog has issued a scathing report on “inadequate” efforts to protect a young woman before she was stabbed to death by her east Auckland stalker.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has investigated the work of police following a report filed by murder victim Farzana Yaqubi.

The 21-year-old law student was fatally stabbed on December 19, 2022, by East Tamaki man Kanwarpal Singh.

Yaqubi and Singh met through a chance encounter in September, 2020.

He engaged her in conversation when she walked past his central Auckland workplace and invited her on a coffee date.

Afterward he began to constantly message her and stalk her on social media, despite her blocking him.

“In 2021 and 2022, Singh created multiple new social media accounts and contacted Ms Yaqubi on these,” a court document on the case states.

“Singh began threatening Ms Yaqubi via these accounts.”

Singh threatened to kidnap her and to throw acid on her face.

He added Yaqubi’s family members and friends on social media in an attempt to contact her and also followed her, sent her a video filmed outside her address, and had a pizza delivered to her home.

In 2022 she made an online report and visited a police station to make a statement about his behaviour.

After work on December 19 she caught a bus home to west Auckland.

She entered an alleyway beside Waitakere Badminton Centre, the court document states.

“Singh was waiting in his Toyota vehicle … parked in the rear carpark of the Waitakere Badminton Centre.

“Singh saw Ms Yaqubi walking in the alleyway and approached her with a large knife in his hand.”

Yaqubi tried to phone police as Singh approached her and stabbed her in the stomach and chest with the knife.

She fell to the ground and screamed as he continued stabbing her before fleeing in his vehicle.

Yaqubi was pronounced dead at the scene and police arrested Singh at his home the following day.

After pleading guilty to her murder Singh was sentenced at the Auckland High Court to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for the crime.

The police’s response to Yaqubi’s complaints about Singh’s “harassing” behaviour has been the subject of an IPCA investigation.

Its findings state she was murdered almost eight weeks after reporting the stalking to police.

“At the time of her death, Ms Yaqubi’s complaint file was awaiting investigation.

“Ms Yaqubi, a 21-year-old, Muslim law student in Auckland, first made a 105 online report to police on October 25, 2022.

“She provided screenshots of messages the man was sending her, including one where he threatened to throw acid on her face.

“She also provided police with other information which was sufficient for police to be able to identify the man.

“Ms Yaqubi’s file sat inactive for six weeks while police waited for her to come to the police station and provide a formal statement.

“On December 3, Ms Yaqubi updated her online report, telling police the situation had escalated and she was extremely fearful the man may pose a threat to her life.

“On December 6, Ms Yaqubi went to Henderson Police Station and gave a formal statement to police, outlining further significant matters.

“She was told the file would be forwarded to another station near to where she had told police the man may be living.

“At the time of her death, the matter had not been progressed any further.”

The IPCA found the police’s response was “inadequate”.

Its findings include the initial assessment matrix police use to assess allegations of stalking to determine whether there will be further investigation is not fit-for purpose; police did not adequately take into account cultural and religious factors which influenced how Yaqubi engaged with police nor did they provide her with appropriate support; police failed to ensure significant matters raised in her formal statement were immediately addressed; and police failed to link Yaqubi’s file and the file of another young girl who was also being threatened by the same man.

Following the IPCA report’s release, police said they acknowledge and accept the findings into the handling of Yaqubi’s complaint prior to her death.

“We accept that a combination of decisions and actions taken over an eight-week period meant police missed several opportunities for earlier intervention in the complaint,” Waitemata District Commander, Superintendent Naila Hassan says.

“Given the concerning matters Ms Yaqubi had raised in her statement, police should have acted sooner and provided better support given the effects of the frightening behaviour she was experiencing at the time.

“For this we apologise. We have also met with Ms Yaqubi’s family to apologise face-to-face.”

Police also conducted an internal investigation into the matter.

It has recommended changes to the Initial File Assessment framework, which is used to determine how police manage a complaint made through 105 on a specific group of offences.

Police also accept the IPCA’s findings around cultural and religious factors not adequately considered while interacting with Yaqubi.

“While the murder conviction is subject to appeal proceedings, at the time prosecution proceedings commenced it was not deemed to be motivated by hate,” Superintendent Hassan says.

“There have already been additional training programmes delivered to our staff around hate-motivated crimes.

“We are continuing to make improvements to training and resources available for our staff to assist their decision making around what might constitute a hate-motived crime in files they are investigating.”

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