In the Media

Police officer 'overwhelmed by paperwork' failed to conduct risk assessment on killer stalker

PUBLISHED January 5, 2007

A young police officer yesterday told how colleagues failed to complete basic paperwork in the case of an obsessed lover who went on to gun down his ex-girlfriend at Harvey Nichols.

They should have filled in a booklet, called 124D, which would have required them to carry out a risk assessment on 30-year-old Michael Pech.

Pc Bibi Shah, assigned to look after beauty consultant Clare Bernal after she complained Pech was stalking her, had to assess him herself and concluded he was a 'low risk'.

Pc Shah broke down in tears as she described how she discovered Miss Bernal, 23, had been shot dead at the perfume counter in the London department store in September 2005.

As the inquest into her death resumed yesterday at Westminster's Coroner's Court, the officer's face crumbled as she explained: "I heard that two 30-year-olds had been shot at Harvey Nichols and I was scared that Clare was one of them."

The officer tried to call Miss Bernal, the daughter of a financier from Orpington, Kent, on her mobile phone, but there was no reply.

The initial report of the victim's age was incorrect, and it emerged that Pech had indeed walked into Harvey Nichols and shot Miss Bernal to the back of her head.

He then stood over her body and fired bullets into each of her cheeks and a fourth into her chin, destroying her face, before turning the gun on himself.

It emerged he had earlier warned: "If I can't have her, no one will." Being questioned by coroner Dr Paul Khapman, Pc Shah agreed her fellow officers were 'overwhelmed' by paperwork.

Three of her colleagues attended Miss Bernal's home after she reported that Pech had followed her home and threatened to kill her six months before the shooting.

They did not fill in booklet 124D, which is described as an 'aide memoire' for officers dealing with many incidents at the same time and crucially, asks them to make an initial risk assessment of the case.

Recalling the incident on March 25, 2005 Miss Bernal was reporting, her friend and flatmate Nataliya Sarapionova said: "I received a phone call from Clare. She said Michael was waiting for her outside Selfridges where she had been doing promotional work and he followed her on to the Tube.

"She asked him to leave otherwise she would report him, but he said: 'If you report me I will kill you.'

"I think there was an argument. The train stopped and he pushed her out of the train. I think that's when she realised the seriousness of the situation."

Pc Shah conceded overwork may be one reason for her colleagues not filling in the paperwork, saying it could have been due to "the number of calls coming in that night" or a more important incident they had not had time to complete.

But the officer, who received no specific training before starting work in the Metropolitan Police's Hate Crime Unit, defended her assessment of Pech as a 'low risk'.

She said there was "nothing whatsoever" to indicate the stalking would end in such tragedy. Miss Bernal met Pech, who had come to Britain as a student, when he started working as a guard at Harvey Nichols.

The relationship lasted a month before Pech is said to have ended it. According to friends, he realised he had made a mistake and tried to rekindle the affair but Miss Bernal wanted nothing to do with him.

Pech then began to stalk her, following her in the street, pestering her with phone calls, standing around outside her house and bombarding her with text messages.

Detectives believe he planned her murder meticulously, returning to his native Czech Republic to buy the Luger pistol he used in the killing and smuggling it through Dover.

After the problems began, staff at Harvey Nichols stopped Pech from working on the same floor as Miss Bernal and later suspended him during the police investigation.

Security manager Brian Lenehan advised Miss Bernal to call police immediately, which she did from his office.

However, he told the inquest police officers did not take the evidence the store had gathered, preferring instead to conduct their own investigation.

"At the time the only evidence the police had in their possession was Clare's say so about it," he said.

"We had information from several other members of staff which built a bigger picture. That might have caused them to have greater concern about it, I don't know."

Chris Newell, principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions, added that if further statements had been taken from Miss Bernal, enough evidence may have emerged to charge Pech with a more serious charge.

As it was, he was allowed bail and charged with harassment, which carries only a maximum sentence of six months in prison.

He pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentence when he killed Miss Bernal on September 13, 2005.

The inquest continues today.