Strasbourg rules against parents in case of murdered optician


By Jennifer Lipman, November 13, 2012
The European Court of Human Rights (Photo: CherryX)

The European Court of Human Rights (Photo: CherryX)

The parents of an optician murdered by a former employee have lost their final attempt to win justice in the courts for their son over alleged failures by Hertfordshire Police.

The European Court of Human Rights this morning found against Irwin and Corinne Van Colle, who had claimed that police actions in the run-up to their son's killing went against Articles Two and Eight of the Human Rights Act. The couple said they were disappointed with the ruling and the fact that witness protection protocols would remain without legal status.

Their son Giles, who was 25 and already a prominent communal figure, was shot dead by former employee Daniel Brougham in 2000 outside his Mill Hill practice.

The optician had been due to testify against the killer in a theft case, and had told the officer in charge of the case, Det Con David Ridley, that the man had threatened his life. The killer was subsequently jailed for life.

In a series of legal battles over the last decade, the Van Colles successfully sued Hertfordshire Police for failing to protect their son despite the threats, following which judges unanimously rejected an appeal by Hertfordshire Police.

But in 2008 the case went to the Law Lords, who overturned the judgment. The family decided to take the fight to the ECHR, arguing that the police had violated Mr Van Colle's right to life and right to respect for private and family life.

Four years later, the ECHR judges have unanimously ruled that no violations of either article occurred. Theoretically the family can take their case one step further the Grand Chamber but with a unanimous decision now, it would not be expected to change anything.

Despite the decision, two of the judges offered opinions stating that the Osman test – which provides protection by police for people affected by crime, and the law which the House of Lords applied in overturning the earlier judgment – should be looked at again. Judge Garlicki wrote: "While the House of Lords should be commended on a faithful application of the Osman test, it may be time for our Court to reconsider the standards for assessing when the authorities could have been expected to have known that a real and immediate risk existed."

Another of the judges added that while Osman had been applied properly, he was "still concerned by the fact that it should have been very clear from the start that Mr Brougham was violent and dangerous".

Mr Van Colle said he had no regrets about bringing the case to the ECHR.

"We were told at the start it would be a long process. We gave it our best shot," he said.

"We didn't do it for the money. If we had won today we would have got a piece of paper, but that piece of paper would have been priceless. That single piece of paper would have justified the whole case.

"The thing that's so sad is that the ne'er do wells seems to get favourable human rights judgments but the decent people don't."

"The reason for doing it was not just to get justice for Giles but also hopefully to prevent others from going through the same trauma," added his wife. "We had to do it."

Last updated: 5:12pm, November 13 2012