BREAKING NEWS: Sussex Police could have averted Cassandra Hasanovic’s murder

SUSSEX Police failed to protect a young mum who was murdered in 2008, an inquest has concluded.

The inquest into the death of 24-year-old Cassandra Hasanovic was closed this afternoon (February 26), with jurors concluded the police could have done more to prevent her murder.

Mrs Hasanovic was stabbed in Normanton Avenue, in Bognor Regis, 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.

In 2007 he was arrested by Kent Police for sexually and physically assaulting her, but Kent Police and the Crown Prosecution Service did not take the matter to court.

After fleeing to Australia in May, 2007, Mrs Hasanovic returned to the UK in February, 2008, for a custody battle over their children.

bns_tribute'Cassandra Hasanovic

bns_tribute'Cassandra Hasanovic

During this time, Hasanovic repeatedly threatened her, breaching the terms of a non-molestation order.

Prior to her murder, she repeatedly told Sussex Police she was afraid and on the day of her death told one officer she was in fear of her life.

The jury concluded that if police had given her an escort to a women’s refuge the day of her death and stayed with her beforehand, Mrs Hasanovic might still be alive.

It also concluded officers were ‘inadequately trained’ at the time in dealing with domestic violence incidents.

Sharon De Souza, Mrs Hasanovic’s mother, was present throughout the entirety of the inquest.

Speaking afterwards, she said: “My daughter Cassie was a beautiful, courageous young women, who did everything within her power to protect herself and her children.

“She was a wonderful mother whose greatest wish was the chance to watch her children grow up.

“Although her situation was in the hands of three different agencies, ultimately those agencies let her down. The jury have unanimously decided what we as a family have always felt – that there were a number of serious failings by all three state agencies that ultimately impacted on my daughter Cassie’s chance of a life.”

She thanked Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, for its support.
The charity’s chief executive Sandra Horley has also been present for the inquest.

Afterwards, she said: “The jury at the inquest into the death of Cassie Hasanovic found that Kent Police, the CPS and Sussex Police all failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard Cassie’s life.

“As to the CPS and Sussex Police, the jury also found unanimously that had they taken appropriate steps, there is a substantial chance that Cassie’s life would have been saved.”

She said she was ‘saddened’ by the findings of the inquest, but ‘regrettably’ not surprised.

“Cassie’s story is not a one-off. Every week two women are killed by current or former partners in England and Wales. Mounting evidence shows that in too many of these cases, the police and other state agencies fail to protect victims of domestic violence.

“That’s why Refuge is calling on the government to open a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to victims of domestic violence.”

‘The most dreadful of circumstances’

Following the jury’s conclusions, the senior coroner for West Sussex said she would write to Sussex Police, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“As a mother myself, I can’t start to comprehend what it must be like for you,” she said to Mrs De Souza.

“I hope that the experience of hearing from the witnesses involved in your daughter’s case has helped you in bringing some form of closure in this matter.”

She offered the family her ‘sincere condolences’, adding it was ‘what can only be described as the most dreadful of circumstances’.

She said she would contact Sussex Police so there could be ‘better policing’ in terms of breaching non-molestation orders, adding there should be a central point of contact for people.

She will also raise the issue of training officers in dealing with domestic violence incidents.

The jury concluded officers responding to calls from Mrs Hasanovic were ‘inadequately trained in the area of domestic abuse’.

They also concluded it was ‘more probable than not’ that officers from Sussex Police responding to her calls were not familiar with the force’s domestic violence policy.

The coroner will also write to ACPO about the benefits of sharing information on domestic abuse victims across different forces, to ensure victims did not fall off the radar when they moved.

She will contact the CPS to encourage them to have a log, showing details of when victims were contacted by the CPS, making it easier for domestic abuse victims to see what would happen if they were not prepared to give evidence in court.

‘Watershed moment’ for Sussex Police

WITNESSES from Sussex Police have spoken during the inquest of how procedures have changed within the force since Mrs Hasanovic’s murder in 2008.

Following the conclusion, Detective Chief Inspector Pierre Serra said: “This was a wicked and callous crime in which Hajrudin Hasanovic brutally murdered his wife, Cassandra Hasanovic, in a public street and in front of their children and her mother.

“We continue to express our sincere condolences to Cassie’s family who have suffered this tragic loss of a mother and daughter.

“Sussex Police acknowledges the verdict of the jury in this case and awaits the coroner’s letter highlighting points raised in the inquest.

“This case was a watershed moment for Sussex Police and we have already learnt a number of important lessons from it in terms of how we deal with cases of domestic abuse.

“The protection of life is our highest priority and we will do all we can to prevent such crimes as these from happening. We are determined to do everything we can to bring justice for all victims of domestic abuse.”

A spokesman from Sussex Police added: “As a direct result of Cassie’s murder in 2008 Sussex Police undertook a thorough review of our risk assessment procedure for officers responding to allegations of domestic abuse, with the following outcomes:

– A specific risk assessment tool on domestic abuse and harassment was introduced as part of an ACPO pilot scheme in September 2008 and Sussex Police was one of the first police forces to adopt it in 2009 following the pilot.

– The new risk assessment tool specifically identifies the victim’s perception of the risk and the victim’s level of fear.

– All cases which are identified as high risk are now passed to Sussex Police adult protection teams who specialise in domestic abuse investigations and in dealing with both the victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse.

– Training for response officers and control centre staff was reviewed in the light of this case and this remains an ongoing priority for the force.

– Increasing awareness of domestic abuse, both inside and outside the force, has become a priority for Sussex Police. We have a dedicated intranet site on domestic abuse for officers and Sussex Police was the first police force in England to be awarded White Ribbon status in recognition of the work being done to tackle domestic abuse.”

She added: “Since the review was completed and the new procedures were implemented, reporting of domestic abuse cases to Sussex Police has increased by more than 20 per cent from an average of 51 a day in 2008/09 to 63 a day in 2012/13.”

Domestic violence taken ‘exceptionally seriously’

Jaswant Narwal, chief crown prosecutor in CPS south east, said: The case of Cassandra Hasanovic was a tragic one and we recognise the importance to Cassandra’s family of understanding the full picture leading to her death in 2008.

“We offered our full co-operation to the coroner to support this process. Our involvement with Cassandra dates back to a complaint of domestic violence sexual assault that she made to the police in 2007.

“For a number of reasons, a prosecution was not brought.

“It is now clear that there were shortcomings in the way in which we dealt with Cassandra’s case.

“A decision about whether to proceed with a case should always start with an assessment of whether there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to proceed.

“If we conclude that it is appropriate to proceed, we will explore all reasonable options to enable the victim to give evidence.

“Since that time, the CPS and the criminal justice system as a whole have seen significant changes in the way we prosecute domestic violence and sexual offences.

“Improvements in the system provide a better service to the victim and ensure that offenders are brought to justice wherever possible.

“The use of live video links from abroad, for example, is now much more commonplace.

“In 2011 we established a rape and serious sexual offences unit in the south east, staffed by specially trained lawyers who bring enhanced expertise to these often difficult cases.

“Domestic violence cases are heard in specialist courts, with independent domestic violence advisors and other specialist domestic violence services available to provide practical and emotional support to victims.

“We take offences of domestic violence and sexual abuse exceptionally seriously and will take action wherever there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute.”

Click the following links for previous coverage of the inquest:

Answers due after tragic murder in Bognor Regis

Inquest reopened into Bognor Regis murder