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'Heartbreaking' murder: Public need to know if police response adequate

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Sun, 23 Apr 2023, 9:36AM

'Heartbreaking' murder: Public need to know if police response adequate

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Sun, 23 Apr 2023, 9:36AM

The death of a woman who went to the police to complain about her killer harassing her two months before she was murdered is “heartbreaking in every sense,” National’s police spokesperson says.

Mark Mitchell says the public need to know whether police’s response was adequate.

Farzana “Zana” Yaqubi, 21, was found dead on December 19 last year in an alleyway close to her Massey home near the Waitākere Badminton Centre.

The AUT law student was described by family and friends as a top student who was on a scholarship and already had a job offer. She was born in New Zealand shortly after her father arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan, fleeing Taliban persecution.

East Tamaki man Kanwarpal Singh, 30, this month pleaded guilty to murdering Yaqubi. He is set to be sentenced in August.

Kanwarpal Singh murdered Farzana Yaqubi in December last year. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Kanwarpal Singh murdered Farzana Yaqubi in December last year. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The Herald on Sunday revealed Yaqubi went to police about two months before she was murdered, alleging Singh was harassing her. The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) is now investigating whether there could have been improvements in the police response.

On Sunday, National’s police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said Yaqubi’s death was “heartbreaking in every sense.

“Her parents managed to get her and her siblings away from Afghanistan where a Taliban regime trample over the top of woman’s rights and where they just don’t feel safe.

 “They thought New Zealand was going to be a safe country to raise their children and it is a tragedy they have lost their youngest daughter to a violent attack here in New Zealand.”

Police had come under “increased pressure” in recent years with a steep rise in violent crime, domestic violence, youth and juvenile offending, gang violence and activity and mental health callouts, Mitchell said.

“I am pleased to see the Police have referred this matter to the IPCA to investigate the response to Farzana’s call for help.

“Although it won’t bring Farzana back it is important for her family, the public and our police to know whether their response met both their own and the public’s expectations.”

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said Yaqubi’s death was a “preventable tragedy”, and indicative of the fact that “too often women’s concerns about their own safety are not treated with the necessary urgency.

“Any complaint of harassment or stalking must be seen within the context of high rates of gender-based violence in Aotearoa. The solutions to that take time but there are immediate things that can be done to ensure everyone is safe.

“We would also like to see more focus and resources to provide culturally competent services, within police and grassroots organisations like rape crisis and refuges, to cater to the needs of migrant and refugee background women like Farzana.”

Police Minister Ginny Anderson has been approached for comment.

Acting Detective Inspector Tim Williams earlier told the Herald on Sunday that in the early stages of the police investigation, staff became aware of recent contact Yaqubi had with police.

In late October 2022, Yaqubi filed an online report with police about “harassing behaviour she had experienced”, Williams said.

“Farzana was advised to attend a police station to provide further information so the matter could be considered for further action, which was carried out in early December 2022.

“Police were progressing this matter further when Farzana was senselessly murdered.”

Police referred the matter to the IPCA to explore “whether there could have been improvements in the police response”, Williams said.

“Police will await the findings of this independent review so that any findings can be considered further.”

“While nothing can bring her back, the guilty plea in this case will spare the family this matter going to a jury trial,” Williams said.

“Police continue to support Farzana’s family as they move forward with their lives.”

The Herald on Sunday asked police how many times Yaqubi contacted police, what her concerns were, what police were doing about the concerns and whether they had spoken to Singh.

The Herald on Sunday also asked if police had conducted their own investigation.

They declined to comment further.

“As the matter is being reviewed by the IPCA and still before the courts, we’re unable to provide any further comment.”

The IPCA said one of Yaqubi’s friends had also made a complaint to them in relation to the killing.

“We are in the early stages of our independent investigation.”

Yaqubi’s sister declined to comment when approached by the Herald on Sunday.

High-profile victim advocate Ruth Money said Yaqubi’s “senseless” murder was a “preventable tragedy”.

Money said she had been “increasingly concerned” about police response timelines for reports of stalking and threatening behaviour.

“Sadly, I do not think Farzana’s death will be an isolated incident unless significant increases in both resource and training regarding risk assessment [are] delivered urgently.

“To expect someone who is scared to report to a police station ‘in person’ is an unrealistic ask and shows great misunderstanding about fear and harm. For someone to go to the effort of reporting like Farzana did in October, indicates real fear and concern on their part, and usually, it is never the first threat that they report.”

Money said the current “slow response times” to assess reports of concern, engage with victims and investigate allegations were causing “distress and additional victimisation”, which she believed was a resource issue for police.

“In addition, it is my experience there is significant opportunity to improve the way risk is profiled and assessed, taking into account a multi-faceted approach such as profiling gender, culture, ethnic differences, proximity, resources of the alleged harasser, prior reports and, most importantly, listening to and truly hearing what the victim is saying about their levels of fear and why.”

She said police should reveal how many times Yaqubi contacted them about Singh.

“There is no reason why the police couldn’t and shouldn’t be open and transparent and honest.”

An observant Shia Muslim, Yaqubi had been preparing for a religious pilgrimage to Iraq with her family.

Farzana Yaqubi filed an online report with police regarding harassing behaviour in late October 2022.

Farzana Yaqubi filed an online report with police regarding harassing behaviour in late October 2022.

During Singh’s first court appearance in December, at Waitākere District Court, his lawyer had asked for interim name suppression so that his parents in India could be notified of the charge.

Three sisters and two brothers of Yaqubi filled the first row of the courtroom’s gallery during the previous hearing, and screams echoed in the courtroom as the defendant was shuffled out by security.

“You f***ing bastard!” one of the women yelled through tears.

“How could you? How could you?”

“You coward!” another sibling yelled.

Standing outside the courtroom after the hearing, family friend Wahid Suliman described Yaqubi as a caring and “beautiful young lady” who had plans to become a criminal lawyer after just one more year of studying.

“The tragedy has broken everybody’s heart,” he said.

“She was the youngest [in the family], but she was the smartest.”

Singh remains in custody while awaiting sentencing.

Assadullah Nazari, president of the Hazara Afghan Association Incorporated, earlier said his community in Auckland was rallying around the family.

The distress of the community was compounded by the grief and worry they still felt from the Christchurch mosque attacks.

“We left our own country, the country that we were born in ... we left to go somewhere to be safe and live our lives in peace, and in the community,” he said.

The worry had again intensified after the death of a Hazara in Auckland, he said.

“The community’s in shock. Everyone is worried, especially with the young ones that they have.”

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