Shocking failings led to a mum-of-three’s body going undiscovered in a cupboard for more than a year, a new report has found.
Victoria Cherry’s body was so badly decomposed that investigators were unable to determine the cause of her death.
She was eventually discovered at the home of her boyfriend Andrew Reade in Bolton in January 2017, the Manchester Evening News reports.
A Domestic Homicide Review found agencies failed to communicate with each other, and did not consider the possibility of an abusive relationship.
Reade was initially arrested on suspicion of her murder, but the decomposition of her body left detectives with insufficient evidence to prosecute.
Instead, in June 2017, Reade was convicted of preventing the unlawful burial of a body and perverting the course of justice.
He was jailed for four years and four months.
A Domestic Homicide Review was launched to find out how Ms Cherry’s disappearance went unnoticed by police and other services for so long.
The review found that the agencies involved with Vicky Cherry and Andrew Reade failed to communicate properly with each other, and did not consider the risk of domestic abuse in the relationship.
The report, written by retired police officer David Mellor, said: “The failure of agencies in contact with [Reade and Ms Cherry] to enquire about and share concerns in respect of Michelle’s sudden disappearance contributed to the delay in discovering [Ms Cherry’s] body.
“The delay in discovering [Ms Cherry’s] body meant that it was not possible to determine the cause of her death. If [Reade] did in fact murder her, the delay in finding her body enabled him to evade justice.”
The report offers an insight into Reade’s coercive and controlling behaviour towards Ms Cherry.
The couple were both drug users and moved to Bolton in April 2014.
Ms Cherry had fled violent relationships before while Reade had a ‘significant criminal history’, as well as a history of abuse of female partners, the report said.
While Ms Cherry went through periods of little or no contact with her family in Preston, her mum was concerned about Reade’s ‘hold over her’.
A friend of Reade described him as controlling towards Ms Cherry, often locking her in the flat while he went out, sometimes leaving her with hardly any food.
The friend said that he never saw Reade hit or threaten her, nor did he see any bruises on her body, but that he controlled every aspect of her life.
He always controlled the money, carried her bank card, and decided what their money should be spent on, often putting his needs before hers.
The friend said Reade would inject heroin into Ms Cherry’s neck as she had no other suitable veins.
The report found that Reade’s previous history as a domestic abuser was not sufficiently recognised or information shared between agencies such as the former Bolton Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service (BiDAS), GPs, Bolton at Home, the National Probation Service and the Community Rehabilitation Company.
His potential risk to Ms Reade may have been ‘underestimated’.
Reade and Ms Cherry were both drug addicts and each had had involvement with a number of agencies over the years. But the review states that there was a culture of ‘silo working’ where organisations did not share information.
Bolton Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service (BiDAS), where the couple were both clients, and Ms Reade’s GP were criticised in the report for not sharing information.
“Both BiDAS and her GP recognised that [Reade] had vulnerabilities, but their focus was primarily on vulnerabilities associated with her mental health, including previous suicide attempts and her use of illicit and prescription drugs,” the report explained.
“There appeared to be no consideration of how a person with her vulnerabilities might be faring in her most intimate relationship.”
Ms Cherry was last seen alive at a pharmacy to collect her methadone on October 6, 2015, when a staff member noticed she looked very unwell.
Yet no action was taken when she did not return on subsequent days for her prescription.
Reade continued claiming her benefits for several months after her death until they were stopped by the DWP.
Again, they did raise the alarm when they could not contact her and the payments were stopped.
“The ease with which [Reade] was able to conceal [Ms Cherry’s] death is a matter of concern,” states the report.
Ms Cherry was reported as missing to Lancashire Constabulary by her mother in October 2015.
“The early stages of the missing person’s enquiry were handled unsatisfactorily,” says the report.
Lancashire Constabulary’s Missing Person procedure stresses the importance of conducting a search of the place where the missing person was last seen.
Ms Cherry had last been seen at the Toronto Street flat, yet searches of the property had been ‘repeatedly overlooked’.
“Initial risk assessments gave insufficient weight to [Ms Cherry’s] vulnerability, the risks that Scott, with his well documented criminal history, could present to her and the increasing likelihood that Michelle had been the victim of a serious crime.”
The flat was eventually searched and Ms Cherry’s body discovered three months after she was reported missing.
A post-mortem found evidence of strangulation and facial fractures caused by blunt force trauma inflicted 4-6 weeks prior to her death.
A series of 42 recommendations are made in the report for improvements by nine of the agencies involved with Ms Cherry and Reade and five multi-agency recommendations.
Responding to the review and recommendations. Chief Supt Stuart Ellison, chairman of Be Safe Bolton Strategic Partnership, said: “This is a very tragic case and on behalf of the partnership, I would like to express our sincere condolences to the family.
“We commissioned the review to see if there were any lessons to be learned to improve the way we work together to protect victims of domestic abuse. The panel’s findings and recommendations have been shared with all the agencies involved in the review. Clearly there are things that could have been done better.
“Be Safe has developed a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations and we will ensure that we continue to work together with our partners to minimise risks to victims of domestic abuse.”
Det Chief Insp Mike Gladwin, of Lancashire Police’s Public Protection Unit, added: “We welcome the review and we participated fully with it as part of our commitment to learning and improving in any way we can to protect victims of domestic abuse.
“We recognise there are things that could have been done better in this case and we have introduced a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations.”