Answers due after tragic murder in Bognor Regis

Cassandra Hasanovic
Cassandra Hasanovic

THE jury deciding how a young mother came to be murdered has retired to consider its conclusion today (February 26).

Cassandra Hasanovic, 24, from Normanton Avenue, in Bognor Regis, was stabbed in the street by her husband in front of their children as she was leaving for a women’s refuge in Dorset on July 29, 2008.

Hajrudin Hasanovic was convicted in 2009 of her murder. Mrs Hasanovic’s mother Sharon De Souza has told the inquest how ‘petrified’ her daughter was before her death.

“You have heard the factors of a real tragedy and you will no doubt feel a great deal of sympathy for Mrs De Souza and her family ,” senior coroner for West Sussex Penelope Schofield told the jury yesterday. The inquest began last Monday.

However, she warned them to set aside their emotions and to judge the matter on the evidence produced throughout the inquest.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in this case you must concentrate on what people knew, or should have known, at that particular time.”

The jury has been given a list of nearly 40 questions to answer relating to the case, looking at actions of Sussex Police, Kent Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in the months leading up to Mrs Hasanovic’s death.

Mrs Hasanovic told police the day she died: “I live in fear for the safety of myself, who he has threatened to kill. I’m so scared of him I’m going to a refuge later on today.”

Sussex Police officers who visited Mrs Hasanovic from April 2008 until July 2008 took statements and filled in risk assessment forms, classifying her as being a ‘high risk’ of domestic violence.

A number of officers have given evidence, saying at the time they neither had formal training in dealing with domestic abuse cases, nor with filling in risk assessment forms.

These forms have since been scrapped with a new risk assessment system introduced after it was developed in 2008.

The inquest has focused on many different agencies which Mrs Hasanovic spoke with up until her death and will decide if better communication might have avoided her murder.

Multi-agency risk assessment conferences (known as MARAC) were introduced in Sussex in 2008, where different groups including police, councils and social services would meet to discuss a domestic abuse victim’s case and how best to continue.

It was introduced to the Arun district in June, 2008, a month before Mrs Hasanovic’s murder.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Detective Sergeant Wendy Vodrey of Sussex Police said there were a ‘huge list’ of cases in the Arun district for MARAC to deal with.

“It’s quite a laborious and time-consuming process to be done properly,” she said, adding: “The reality was that it hadn’t got to the stage yet where it saw Cassie’s case.”

Speaking of the conference’s purpose, she said: “All the information comes in from all the partner agencies so that we have a full picture and we avoid situations where people have told one organisation one thing and another organisation another thing.”

DS Vodrey was quizzed by Karon Monaghan QC, acting on behalf of Mrs Hasanovic’s family, about why police would not take her to a refuge from Bognor Regis.

“She was at immediate risk of harm. An officer could have been provided to take her to a refuge,” said Miss Monaghan.

DS Vodrey replied: “That risk was ongoing absolutely, but actually physically taking someone to a refuge is something that is usually done when a domestic violence incident has just occurred.”

Case worker recalls final phone call

A REFUGE worker who spoke with Cassandra Hasanovic the day she was murdered contacted the inquest after seeing media coverage of it.

Susan Elmer was a case worker at the refuge in Dorset where Mrs Hasanovic was due to go on July 29, 2008.

She was asked by coroner Penelope Schofield whether her recollections had been influenced by the coverage in the press.

“That’s totally from my recollection,” she said. “When you speak to someone just before that happens it’s something that really does stick with you.”

She remembered Mrs Hasanovic being scared when she spoke with her the morning of her murder.

She said she was very frightened because she didn’t know where he was,” she told the inquest on Monday, adding: “She said she was really frightened because nobody knew where he was and she was afraid that he could even be watching the house.”

Mrs Elmer told Mrs Hasanovic to ask for a police escort to the refuge and said she was ‘very surprised’ to learn when she spoke to her a second time one could not be provided.

“She was still frightened and anxious. I asked at that point whether she was getting a police escort and was told that she couldn’t have one.”

She said the refuge had previously received women and children who were given police escorts to Dorset from as far away as London.

No action after assaults and bail breaches

CHARGES against Hajrudin Hasanovic for sexual and common assaults on his wife in May, 2007, were dropped by prosecutors in Kent.

At the time of his arrest, a terrified Cassandra Hasanovic fled to Australia with the couple’s children as soon as she learned he had been bailed by Kent Police.

The district crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in south east Kent decided not to reinstate the case in December, 2007, following a plea from Mrs Hasanovic.

Mrs Hasanovic said she would give evidence via live link, but would not return to the UK as she was scared of Hasanovic.

“We know that a decision was taken that it wasn’t appropriate to use the live link facility as the costs were prohibitive and the complainant was unwilling to return to the UK,” senior coroner Penelope Schofield told the jury when summing up. However, it was confirmed the CPS was aware Hasanovic had breached his bail conditions not to contact his wife, but no action was taken.

Domestic violence calls to Sussex Police rising

A SUSSEX Police expert in tackling domestic abuse said it would be ‘helpful’, if police could keep track of people moving into their areas who were at high risk.

Detective Sergeant Wendy Vodrey dealt with the aftermath of Cassandra Hasanovic’s death and how it had been handled at that point.

Days before, she had been transferred to help improve the force’s handling of domestic violence cases, with Mrs Hasanovic’s one of the first incidents with which she had to deal.

Following sexual and physical assaults, by her husband, Mrs Hasanovic contacted Kent Police in May, 2007, and he was arrested. She fled to Australia.

However, she was forced to return after he took her to court over custody of their children.

She moved to her mother’s home in Normanton Avenue, Bognor Regis.

Several officers who later met with Mrs Hasanovic were not aware of her husband’s history when they spoke with her and found out for the first time from her.

Hasanovic was charged in June, 2007, but Kent CPS did not continue with the case.

DS Vodrey admitted while police could be very aware of high risk cases in their area, it was difficult when high risk people moved into the area, of whom police had no previous knowledge.

“It would be really helpful if there was a process that ensures that forces always knew about the high risk people in their area,” she told the inquest.

Sussex Police took a statement from Mrs Hasanovic after her husband approached her in April, 2008, but at the time were not aware of her previous history with Kent Police.

Officers at the time were not given specialist domestic abuse training, although it was covered in their basic training. They also were not trained in filling in the risk assessment forms that accompanied such incidents.

In 2008, the number of domestic abuse calls referred to Sussex Police was more than 18,000 – an average of 51 calls per day.

Since then, this number has risen.

DS Vodrey confirmed police officers would have been familiar with these figures at the time.

It is now common practice for high risk incidents to be dealt with by special investigation units, rather than day-to-day response officers.