POLICE have changed their procedures following the Lesley Dunford case after admitting the case should have been re-opened years ago.
Dunford, 33, is currently serving a seven year prison for sentence after being convicted, last week, of killing her three year old daughter Lucy at the family home in Camber in February 2004.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sloan of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “We openly accept that when the Family Court evidence was received, it should have been reviewed and then referred back to the Crown Prosecution Service.
“The force now has systems in place to ensure that happens in such cases. Since the Coroner’s referral, we have made organisational changes which ensure that a review is carried out whenever there is a finding of civil liability in another court in these circumstances.
“We have researched all our unsolved murders or similar cases to ensure that they have been subject of a review process for that purpose.”
The death of Dunford’s seven-month old son Harley in August 2003 was fully investigated by police at the time and there was no evidence to justify any criminal proceedings, No evidence has emerged since and there are no plans to re-open that investigation.
Chief Inspector Sloan said: “This was tragic case for everybody. There was a thorough police investigation at the time but the forensic evidence then did not support a prosecution. However my team has carried out a very thorough analysis of all the evidence and we are very glad to see that justice has now been done for Lucy.”
“Several of the witnesses who gave evidence in support of the prosecution have had to revisit a very harrowing episode of their lives and we pay tribute the dignified way in which they conducted themselves.”
The death of Lucy was immediately treated as suspicious by Sussex Police. Her mother was arrested and interviewed and there was a thorough investigation.
However, based on the information available at the time, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision was that there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution. The CPS decision turned largely on reports from two pathologists, which were conflicting.
Nevertheless, there was concern about the safety of another child of the same family, which was sufficient for East Sussex Social Services to remove her into care.
At a subsequent Family Court hearing for care proceedings in respect of that child, further medical experts provided opinions regarding the death of Lucy.
At the conclusion of those proceedings a police application was made to the Family Court judge for police access to all the expert medical evidence given during the proceedings, a copy of his judgement and a transcript of Dunford’s evidence.
The Judge issued an order authorising disclosure to police of the expert evidence and his judgement.
A police decision was then made in 2005 not to re-submit the case to the CPS in respect of the death of Lucy, and the CPS did not therefore have sight of the evidence of the experts who gave evidence in the Family Court.
When the inquest into the death of Lucy Dunford began in 2009, HM Coroner for East Sussex adjourned the proceedings on learning of the extra evidence acquired from the Family Court proceedings.
Sussex Police then carried out a complete re-investigation of the case. This resulted in the arrest and charging of Lesley Dunford in July 2011.