In April, Lance Corporal Trimaan ‘Harry’ Dhillon was found guilty of murdering his former girlfriend, Alice Ruggles.
Dhillion, 26, slashed Ruggles’ neck from ear to ear and left her to bleed to death in the bathroom of her flat in Gateshead last October.
Ruggles, who had complained to police about Dhillon harassing her in the past, had contacted them again just five days before she was murdered, but told a friend she felt “palmed off” and joked to her sister they would “respond when he stabs me.”
Dhillon, a 2 Scots signaller, who was in a relationship with Ruggles for a year, is now serving a life sentence with a minimum of 22 years.
Tonight ITV’s brand new Crime and Punishment season kicks off with a compelling look at the case with Trevor McDonald.
An Hour to Catch A Killer takes viewers to the heart of the all-important window of time that can make or break a murder investigation – the ‘Golden Hour’. A principle outlined in British Police’s Murder Investigation Manual, it describes how the decisions detectives make during that first hour impact on whether or not they catch the killer.
It features unprecedented access to the Northumbria Homicide Team, who start filming the second the call reporting the attack comes in.
Footage from the murder squad wearing HD body cameras takes viewers into crime scenes where film crews usually can’t go as their presence would contaminate evidence.
Senior investigating officer DCI Lisa Theaker said: “Getting evidence in the golden hour is vital. It’s fresh, it’s not contaminated and it might not be there for very long. The priority for me is securing evidence as quickly as possible. Where’s my offender? That’s a real priority for me because they’ll be a wealth of forensic evidence on them. Let’s find who the killer is.”
The show follows the team’s progress during the 60 minutes from when Ruggles is declared dead, which crucially sees them learn of Dhillon’s obsessive behaviour and identify him as a suspect. He was arrested before midnight.
Ruggles, a graduate of Leicester University, was found by her housemate Maxine McGill and had suffered 24 injuries, including defensive wounds. A jury at Newcastle Crown Court heard Dhillon had probably kneeled on her back and held her head up to slash her throat with a long, sharp carving knife at least six times, cutting through to her spine. At 6ft 1in and 12st 7lb, Dhillon was almost a foot taller and three stone heavier than her.
The pair had developed an intense relationship over the internet while Dhillon was serving in Afghanistan. Though professing to love her, Dhillon was serially unfaithful, controlling, manipulative and possessive around Ruggles. Their relationship declined when she found he had been messaging other women on dating sites but he used emotional blackmail to try and get her back, then threatened to release sexual photographs of her.
Dhillon’s previous partner had suffered similarly, with her ordeal ending only when she took out a restraining order.
When Ruggles decided to end the relationship in August last year, Dhillon became obsessive. He contacted her mother on social media, pleading with her to intervene, he hacked into Ruggles’ Facebook account to monitor her movements and would send he pleading messages and crying selfies. When he discovered she was on the brink of starting a new relationship with an Army officer she met in Germany, Dhillon visited her ground-floor flat at night, knocking on her window and terrifying her.
In court Dhillon initially denied being in the flat on the evening of her death, but changed his story after Ruggles’ blood was found on his Help For Heroes wristband and on the steering wheel of his BMW. He then claimed she had attacked him and she had died after accidentally plunging the knife into her own neck. He fled without dialling 999 and took her phone with him - an act which became a crucial part of the evidence against him.
Ruggles first called the police after she split up with Dhillon because he continued to contact her, including travelling 120 miles to Tyneside from his barracks outside Edinburgh to knock on her door, tap on her window and leave flowers and chocolates on the sill late at night.
After her first call to police, whose response she described as “brilliant”, Ruggles obtained a PIN (harassment notice) warning, telling Dhillon to stay away from her.
The National Stalking Helpline is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust 0808 802 0300
Women’s Aid is a freephone 24-hour national domestic violence helpline 0808 2000 247.
Men’s Advice Line is a national helpline for men who experience domestic abuse from partners or ex partners 0808 801 0327.
But five days before she was murdered, Dhillon sent Ruggles a parcel containing a letter, photos and a notebook.
She called 101 but was unable to speak to the officer who had originally dealt with her, and discussed it with an operator instead.
McGill, who was a colleague of Ruggles at Sky in Newcastle, told the court: “She says she felt as if it was palmed off. She was then asked the question ‘What do you want us to do about it?’
“She said ‘I don’t know, that’s why I am phoning you. I was asked to get back in touch if I had any further contact.’
“She basically says it was just a waste of time.”
Alice’s parents Clive and Sue said: “We want to share Alice’s story because it highlights the dangers of coercive behaviour and stalking. Although the ITV documentary is not specifically stalking we believe that it will help draw attention to some of the warning signs that should trigger alarm bells.”
Speaking after the case, Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid said: “The devastating murder of Alice Ruggles is a potent reminder of why women reporting abuse must be taken seriously every single time.
“How many more women must be killed before we see robust investment in training for all agencies on domestic abuse - especially coercive control?
“How many women must be killed before we see robust sanctions being implemented swiftly when a perpetrator continues to harass his victim - even after the police are involved?”
Northumbria Police referred itself to The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) but said no one at the time knew of the threat Dhillon posed.
This month it was announced the IPCC will carry out an independent investigation into the actions of the force before Ruggles’ death.
An IPC spokesman said: “The specific details around the scope of the investigation, which is in its early stages, are still being finalised but it will look at the force’s response following Alice’s initial call to police regarding stalking and harassment by Trimaan Dhillon.
“We recognise that our investigation, to some extent, reopens this most tragic case. We have discussed our investigation with Alice’s family and our thoughts are with them as we carry out our work.”
An Hour to Catch a Killer with Trevor McDonald airs on ITV on Thursday 12 October at 9pm.