Her voice is firm and uncompromising, belying her 19 years.
“So one question that’s really bugging me,” she says, “why did you take the key in the first place?”
“Because I wanted to see you,” he mumbles. “I wanted to see you and properly talk to you and I knew you wouldn’t let me in.”
Her name was Shana Grice. The phone call, which Shana secretly recorded, was to Michael Lane. They had dated briefly but now he was her stalker.
Shana wanted to know why Lane had entered her home at six in the morning, using a stolen key. Woken by his footsteps, she pretended to stay asleep and hid under the duvet. She heard her bedroom door open and the sound of deep breathing. Silently, she felt him watch her for about a minute before he left. From her bedroom window, Shana watched Lane walk away from her flat.
Six weeks later, Shana would be dead. Again, Lane had arrived early. He slit her throat with a knife he’d grabbed from the kitchen.
Now, a two-year investigation by the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has delivered its verdict on a series of failings by Sussex Police from February to August 2016, when Michael Lane terrorised Shana Grice to her death.
Six police officers are recommended for disciplinary action. Two will face gross misconduct charges in separate hearings next month. Four others are recommended for misconduct hearings, though three of them have already accepted the ruling and been given “management advice and further training” – a “punishment” also accepted by three civilian staff.
In addition, there are 18 recommendations to improve training for officers dealing with complaints of stalking and harassment; a top-to-toe overhaul of a system that tragically failed 19-year-old Shana Grice.
The scene of the story is Portslade, the blue-collar neighbour to Brighton on the south coast.
Close to the old docks, amid a maze of between-the-wars properties are the offices of Brighton Fire Alarms. Here, in the summer of 2015, a local teenager, Shana Grice, started as the office receptionist. Aged 18, this was Shana’s big break, a staff position with a respectable firm, allowing her to save money for the wedding she planned with her boyfriend, Ashley Cooke, a carpenter. They’d been together since their GCSEs two years earlier.
But also working at Brighton Fire Alarms was Michael Lane, a mechanic. Aged 26, eight years older than Shana, Lane took an instant shine to the attractive new receptionist and she was flattered by his attention. They saw each other secretly over the next few months as Shana agonised over which man to choose.
At Christmas 2015, Shana and Michael Lane stopped seeing each other – and soon afterwards came the first sign of Lane’s campaign of terror.
First, he tried a soft approach, sending Shana a bunch of flowers for her 19th birthday. Shana complained to her boss that the gift was inappropriate. Days later, she discovered her car tyres had been slashed; strangely, Michael Lane appeared from nowhere and offered to change them.
Next, Ashley Cook found his car had been keyed – deep indentations to the paint work by a car key with a note stuck on his windscreen: “Dear Ash, Shana has and always will cheat on you, Happy New Year.”
On February 8, 2016, Shana made her first complaint to Sussex Police that Lane was stalking her. The force responded immediately, tracking down Lane and warning him to leave Shana alone. He did – but not for long.
On March 24, late at night, Lane chased Shana down the street where she lived, snatching her phone from her ear and pulling her hair. Shana again complained to Sussex Police, but when officers questioned Lane he showed them “personal” mobile phone messages between him and Shana – proof, he said, that they were still in a relationship.
Now, Sussex Police made a critical decision that would have far-reaching consequences and which forms a central part of the IOPC inquiry. Officers judged that because she had not told them that she was in an on-off relationship, it was Shana – not Lane – who should be punished.
She was fined £90 for “wasting police time”. Meanwhile Lane, though arrested for assault, escaped without charge.
The message that police had sent to Shana was that it was up to her to produce evidence she was being stalked. Fearing for her life, Shana arranged a system whereby friends and family would contact each other if no-one had seen or heard of her for a couple of hours.
Also, Shana now knew that Lane had stored her private messages to him – and was ready to use them. He had shown them to the police; she feared he would share them with others.
After being fined, Shana immediately quit her job at Brighton Fire Alarms; Lane was suspended a few weeks later and resigned. But despite everything, Shana stayed in contact with him. Precisely why is unclear. The trial judge would later observe that it was a “complex relationship”. Shana was sufficiently concerned about Lane’s conduct to make repeated complaints to the police, “but on the other hand she was also attracted to you,” the judge told Michael Lane. “Because of her age and inexperience of life Shana did not know how to deal with you. And tragically, when she sought help from the police, she received none.”
Observers believe Shana was struggling to manage an impossible relationship; others that she was terrified by Lane’s threats to commit suicide if she stopped seeing him.
On July 8, 2016, Shana made her choice; she was staying with her long-term boyfriend, Ashley. Michael Lane was told to clear out the bits and pieces he’d left at her house. What she didn’t know is that he had secretly taken the back-door key. He returned early next morning and entered her bedroom, hovering over her while she feigned sleep. Then, he left.
Now Shana decided to do what Sussex Police had challenged her to do – bring them evidence that she was being stalked. The 19-year-old called Lane and secretly recorded their conversation. After demanding an explanation of why he’d taken the key, Shana is heard telling him:
SG: Just don’t do it again, and if you come near the house again I’d-
ML: I won’t, I won’t come near the house again I won’t contact you again OK...
SG: I just that’s best, because it’s just gonna keep on going round in this vicious circle isn’t it.
ML: Yeah I know, sorry, that’s all and I know, I know you don’t, well you won’t accept it and that but I still am sorry OK.
SG: Yeah well I really don’t know what else to say to you, I just think it’s just so wrong and so out of order.
SG: You could’ve done anything, you could’ve done anything else. While I’m sleeping, that’s just weird.
Lane goes on to say: “I’m just not right in the head, if I was I wouldn’t do it.”
Shana replies: “Well maybe you need to get help then, maybe you need to do something about it and stop crying and getting all upset about it.”
ML: Yeah I know, I just don’t know what to do though … I know I’ve got a problem and that, I just don’t want to be told that I’m mad and that.
SG: Well don’t do mad things then… You can’t steal someone’s property and expect just, just for us to be alright with it.
ML: Obviously something’s not right in my head … and I don’t know what it is but I know I need to find out or be locked up or something. Can you just not tell anyone please … I don’t want like everyone in Mile Oak [their local district] to know.”
Lane returned the key later that day, but officers were waiting for him. He confessed but wasn’t charged with breaking and entering, or with stalking, he was merely cautioned for theft of a key – another crucial decision that has concerned IOPC investigators and will feature prominently in disciplinary hearings scheduled for next month.
Despite his pathetic appeal for help in his phone call and his police caution, Lane did not let up.
In the next 24 hours, he bombarded Shana with heavy breathing phone calls and, secretly, fitted a tracker underneath her Renault Clio car. Shana never knew it was there, but noticed in her rear view mirror that Lane was following her and turning up at pubs and clubs when she met friends. Every 10 days, late at night, Lane would return to change the batteries.
At around 7.30am on August 25, 2016 – eight months after the stalking began – Lane watched as Shana’s boyfriend and her two flatmates left for work. Knowing Shana was alone, Lane entered the house, took a knife from the kitchen and cut Shana’s throat, before trying – but ultimately failing – to set fire to the scene to destroy any evidence.
CCTV had captured him buying cans of petrol at a supermarket car park the previous evening; other CCTV around the neighbourhood recorded him walking towards Shana’s address and visiting a cash machine where, after killing Shana, he used her credit card to withdraw £60 from her account.
At Lewes Crown Court in March 2017, despite his plea of not guilty, Michael Lane was convicted of Shana’s murder and jailed for a minimum of 25 years. The trial judge, Sir Nicholas Green, told Lane: “You robbed Shana of her life and you have caused grief untold to her family and friends.
“This was a cold-hearted murder. I have not detected in you any appreciation of the devastation you have caused, nor have I detected remorse. In so far as I have detected emotion in you it has been a determination to do all you can to protect yourself and you have been the one person you have felt sorry for.”
The judge also had powerful criticism for Sussex Police.
Regarding Shana’s £90 fine for supposedly wasting police time, he said: “There was seemingly no appreciation on the part of those investigating that a young woman in a sexual relationship with a man could at one and the same time be vulnerable and at risk of serious harm. The police jumped to conclusions and Shana was stereotyped.
“When further incidents of stalking occurred, Shana did not complain to the police because she felt her complaints would not be taken seriously.
“Michael Lane felt that if he continued with his obsessive stalking behaviour it was most unlikely that the Police would do anything to stop him. And he did continue even though he had been warned by the police to keep away from Shana.”
Officials from the IOPC – then known as the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) – observed the trial and the judge asked that his comments form part of an investigation, which Sussex Police had itself requested. The Deputy Chief Constable, Bernie O’Reilly, admitted: “When we looked at the circumstances leading to Shana’s murder, we felt we may not have done the very best we could.”
Shana’s parents, mother Sharon and step-dad Richard Green, said in a court statement: “We’re very relieved that the man who killed our precious Shana; our only child, will serve a long and deserved prison sentence.
“We brought Shana up to respect authority and to always respect the law.
“We firmly believe Shana would be alive today if Sussex Police had acted to protect Shana on the many occasions she complained about Lane rather than issue her with a fine for wasting police time.”
The phrase repeated by many observers is that Sussex Police “failed to join the dots”. Each of the five complaints made by Shana Grice was treated in isolation; no-one detected a pattern of stalking and harassment that would end in her death.
““Our daughter took her concerns to the police and instead was treated like a criminal”
During its investigation, the IOPC heard the repeated defence that officers had never been trained in stalking awareness; it wasn’t something that Sussex Police did. While the force did pledge to immediately implement training measures after Shana’s death, in a separate case almost two years later, it failed another stalking victim.
In March 2018, in St Leonard’s, Sussex, Michelle Savage was shot dead by her estranged husband, despite making several complaints about his violent behaviour in the preceding three weeks. Her mother was also murdered. Craig Savage was jailed for 38 years. The IOPC this week ruled that a police call handler who had failed to record Michelle’s final calls should face a misconduct charge. An internal hearing found the call handler had “breached standards” and was being “retrained”.
In the Shana Grice case, the IOPC’s 18 recommendations for improvements in training amount to an indictment of Sussex’s old procedures and signal a total overhaul of training in stalking cases..
However, Shana’s parents have already indicated that this is unlikely to be the final word. “Our daughter took her concerns to the police and instead was treated like a criminal,” they said in a statement issued by their lawyers. “She paid for the police’s lack of training, care and poor attitude with her life. It’s only right that the police make changes but it’s too little too late for Shana.”