Police criticised over handling of killer's assault on Shropshire teacher

Police should have reported an attack on a teacher in Shropshire by a man who went on to become a killer - a watchdog has ruled.

Jason Conroy
Jason Conroy

An investigation into how West Mercia Police handled allegations against murderer Jason Conroy - a year before he went on to kill a teenager in a care home - has now concluded.

Conroy was a 17-year-old resident at the Shropshire school when he attacked the teacher, more than a year before he went on to strangle 18-year-old Melissa Mathieson in Bristol.

Melissa Mathieson

The attack at the school involved him attempting to throttle his female victim.

West Mercia Police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) regarding its handling of allegations made against Conroy over the attack in March 2013.

The IPCC has now ruled that the first attack should have been recorded as a crime and that an officer who was informed of the assault at a Shropshire school would have a case to answer for misconduct, but has now retired.

IPCC Commissioner, Derrick Campbell, said: “We have met with Melissa’s father, to whom I again send my sincere condolences, to take him through our findings.

"It is impossible to know what impact, if any, recording the assault in Shropshire as a crime would have had on future events.

"We have already recommended the force takes steps to ensure that officers are clear of the requirement to follow the force’s crime recording policy, and the extent of enquiries they are required to make when incidents are reported to them by schools or other similar establishments.”

At his murder trial back in 2015, Conroy was described in court as having an "abnormal sexual drive and a history of aggressive behaviour".

Bristol Crown Court was told that Conroy revealed to psychiatrists he wanted to kill the teacher in Shropshire in order to abuse her sexually.

By October 2014 Conroy, now 21 who has Asperger syndrome, was staying at Alexandra House residential home in Bristol.

Hours after fellow resident Melissa told staff he was stalking her, she was strangled by him.

He planned to drag her body back to his room and abuse her.

Conroy was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015 for the murder. He was also convicted of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm for the assault at the school in Shropshire in 2013.

The IPCC learned in January of 2015 of the previous incident involving Conroy in the county.

It has now recommended the force takes steps to ensure its officers are clear on the need to follow crime recording policy, particularly where a crime is non-recent and where a victim may not wish to pursue a criminal complaint.

An officer, who was informed by the school in September 2013 of the allegation of an assault in March that year, would have had a case to answer for misconduct, in the IPCC investigator’s opinion, for not recording the incident in line with force procedures and not diligently carry out his role as a police officer.

The officer retired from the force after more than 30 years’ service in late 2014.

A female member of staff had alleged that Conroy, a then resident at the school, had grabbed her by the neck to the point that she may have lost consciousness in the incident in March 2013.

It was reported six months later to a police constable during a visit to the school to discuss their missing person policy.

Evidence obtained by the IPCC investigation indicated that the police officer may have made an incorrect assumption that the incident did not amount to more than common assault and so it was not required to be recorded.

This was on the basis that summary only proceedings for common assault could not be brought more than six months after the incident.

When questioned by the IPCC the officer accepted that even if the incident only amounted to a common assault it should have been formally recorded as a crime in accordance with crime recording procedures.

Although the IPCC investigator accepted that the officer may have been given ‘mixed messages’ by school staff about the nature and severity of the incident, it was felt that there was sufficient information given to the officer to prompt him to make further enquiries about this incident and to record the crime.

There was, however, in the investigator’s opinion, no evidence that the officer deliberately down played the risk Conroy posed.

Another IPCC investigation into an incident in Devon involving Jason Conroy in 2009, following which he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a member of school staff, found Devon and Cornwall Police had responded appropriately in the circumstances.

Shropshire local policing Superintendent Jason Wells said: “We cannot even begin to adequately express or truly understand the immense loss felt by Melissa’s family and friends following her murder. Our thoughts have remained with them throughout this review process.”

He added: “We acknowledge the findings of the Serious Case Review and fully accept the IPCC’s recommendations. Changes have already been implemented to address the findings of this review.

“We are working to ensure that we provide our staff with the tools and support they need to properly assess risk and ensure that everything feasible is done to protect people from harm.”

A Serious Case Review (SCR) into various agencies’ dealings with Jason Conroy prior to the murder is also published today and can be found at here.

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