Hull care worker accused of theft walks free after police destroy crucial evidence
A CARE worker accused of stealing almost £9,000 from an elderly woman has walked free after police destroyed crucial evidence.
The trial has collapsed, costing £20,000 of taxpayers' money, after Humberside Police destroyed crucial evidence from a crime scene because an officer failed to reply to an e-mail.
Now, senior officers have ordered an overhaul of its procedures to ensure the mistake never happens again.
Mervyn Bishop, of Victim Support, said his heart went out to the victim.
He said: "The police should be very remorseful for what has happened and what they have put the victim through.
"She really needed the support, care and comfort from the police but, due to unfortunate circumstances regarding e-mails, that has not been the case.
"The police need to tighten up their procedures – just because an officer did not respond, evidence was destroyed. There needs to be better safeguards in place."
Elizabeth Fairbank, a former warden at Alexander Hutchinson Court, a sheltered housing complex in north Hull, had been accused of stealing £8,723 from an elderly woman suffering from memory loss.
She was accused of stealing the money from the woman in her seventies between June 2007 to July 2008.
However, after police destroyed crucial receipts in the case, Miss Fairbank's trial collapsed after two days.
The judge intervened and stopped the trial and the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges, allowing Miss Fairbank to walk free.
The evidence was destroyed by Humberside Police's property office after a detective failed to reply to an e-mail confirming the evidence was still needed.
The property office failed to chase up the officer or check on the Police National Computer to see if the case was still active.
Instead, when it did not receive a response to the original e-mail, staff destroyed important receipts, leading to the collapse of the trial.
Despite Miss Fairbank's legal team asking for all the evidence more than six months ago, the blunder was only revealed during the trial when it emerged a bundle of receipts had been destroyed.
Detective Superintendent Scott Young said the force is reviewing its procedures and introducing a new computerised system in a bid to prevent this happening again.
He said: "Unfortunately, despite great efforts made by Humberside Police to ensure all administrative processes are fail-safe, occasionally incidents such as this do happen.
"It is with great regret that victims are sometimes let down.
"Sadly, on this occasion, evidence appears to have been destroyed because of a mistaken belief that it was no longer needed."
He said a "more robust" IT system would be introduced to prevent similar problems.
"The victim in this case will be provided with the necessary support they require both by Humberside Police and Victim Support," he said.
Miss Fairbank, of Preston Lane, Bilton, faced eight counts of theft.
If new evidence is found in the future, proceedings against her can be restarted.
She was awarded £36 court costs.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "The retention of evidence is a matter for the police.
"As soon as we became aware of the issue, we offered no further evidence, recognising the defendant could not have a fair trial."
Miss Fairbank had worked as a warden at the sheltered housing complex and left in 2008.
A spokesman for Places for People, which runs the sheltered housing complex, said: "We can confirm that Elizabeth Fairbank used to be an employee at Places for People, and left the company in 2008.
"As is usual with any sensitive position, the person would have been subjected to a full Criminal Records Bureau check.
"At no point during her employment were any concerns raised and it was only after she left that an allegation of financial theft was made.
"The welfare of our customers is of paramount importance, and as a matter of priority, we worked closely with the individual and the police to investigate the allegation. We also launched an internal review to ensure our robust systems and processes continued to be effective and appropriate."