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Farzana Yaqubi murder: Damning report says police’s stalking allegations matrix ‘not fit-for-purpose’

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Apr 2024, 1:13pm
Farzana Yaqubi was stabbed to death by Kanwarpal Singh. Photo / Hayden Woodward
Farzana Yaqubi was stabbed to death by Kanwarpal Singh. Photo / Hayden Woodward

Farzana Yaqubi murder: Damning report says police’s stalking allegations matrix ‘not fit-for-purpose’

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Apr 2024, 1:13pm

The independent police watchdog says the matrix police use to assess allegations of stalking is “not fit-for-purpose” after an Auckland student was murdered eight weeks after reporting concerns she was being harassed.  

It has also been revealed police failed to link the student’s complaint about the man with another complaint from a “young girl” who alleged he was also threatening her.  

AUT law student Farzana Yaqubi, 21, was murdered in December 2022 by Kanwarpal Singh, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder.  

The Herald on Sunday revealed she had gone to police with concerns that she was being harassed two months before she was murdered.  

Since the revelations, four political parties pledged to strengthen legal protections against stalking and harassment.  

On Thursday, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) released a summary of its investigation into whether there could have been improvements in the police response. 

Farzana Yaqubi was killed in Massey last year.Farzana Yaqubi was killed in Massey last year. 

Among the key findings are that the initial assessment matrix that police use to assess allegations of stalking to determine whether there would be further investigations was “not fit-for-purpose” as it did not adequately take into account all lines of inquiry and “critically, the risk posed to victims such as Ms Yaqubi”. 

The IPCA also said police did not adequately take into account cultural and religious factors that influenced how Yaqubi engaged with police, “nor did they provide her with appropriate support”. 

Police also “failed to ensure significant matters” raised in Yaqubi’s formal statement were immediately addressed. 

The IPCA also revealed police failed to link Yaqubi’s file and the file of “another young girl” who was also being threatened by the same man “thereby missing an opportunity to gain a fuller picture of the extent of his actions”. 

In a statement released to the Herald on Thursday morning, the IPCA said to respect Yaqubi’s family’s privacy, they had decided not to publish its full report. 

Yaqubi, a Muslim law student, first made a 105 online report to police on October 25, 2022. 

“She provided screenshots of messages the man was sending her, including one where he threatened to throw acid on her face. She also provided police with other information which was sufficient for Police to be able to identify the man,” the IPCA said. 

Yaqubi’s file sat inactive for six weeks while police waited for her to come to the police station and provide a formal statement. 

“On 3 December, Ms Yaqubi updated her online report, telling police the situation had escalated and that she was extremely fearful the man may pose a threat to her life. 

“On 6 December, Ms Yaqubi went to Henderson Police Station and gave a formal statement to police, outlining further significant matters.” 

Yaqubi was told the file would be forwarded to another station near to where she had told police the man may be living. 

“At the time of her death, the matter had not been progressed any further.” 

The IPCA found police’s response was “inadequate”. 

“Police have agreed to review their initial assessment matrix, and they have also agreed to improve training and resources to ensure all staff dealing with files clearly understand what may constitute a hate crime.” 

Kanwarpal Singh. Photo / Jason OxenhamKanwarpal Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham 

Waitematā District Commander Superintendent Naila Hassan told the Herald police acknowledged and accepted the findings. 

“We accept that a combination of decisions and actions taken over an eight-week period meant police missed several opportunities for earlier intervention in the complaint. 

“Given the concerning matters Ms Yaqubi had raised in her statement, Police should have acted sooner and provided better support given the effects of the frightening behaviour she was experiencing at the time.” 

Hassan said police had apologised to Yaqubi’s family in person. 

Police had also conducted an internal investigation. 

The internal investigation recommended changes to police’s Initial File Assessment framework, which was used to determine how they manage a complaint made through 105 on a specific group of offences. 

“This investigation’s findings are contributing to an ongoing review of the framework, which is part of a wider-ranging piece of work to improve our response to victims,” Hassan said. 

Police had also agreed to review the assessment framework. 

“Police are reviewing all initial assessments through all channels, including 105 online reports. 

“As an organisation, we will continue to take all opportunities to improve our processes and systems. 

“This case has also highlighted the need to ensure that Police efforts are spent on cases that are generating the highest levels of harm or risk of violence towards victims.” 

Police also accepted the IPCA’s findings around cultural and religious factors that were not adequately considered while interacting with Yaqubi. 

“While the murder conviction is subject to appeal proceedings, at the time prosecution proceedings commenced it was not deemed to be motivated by hate. 

“There have already been additional training programmes delivered to our staff around hate-motivated crimes. 

“We are continuing to make improvements to training and resources available for our staff to assist their decision-making around what might constitute a hate-motived crime in files they are investigating.” 

In relation to the complaint from the other woman, Hassan said police had a file under investigation about online threatening behaviour at the time of Yaqubi’s murder. 

“No additional charges were laid, noting a 30-year-old man was convicted of murder in 2023.” 

High-profile victim advocate Ruth Money told the Herald she was “not at all surprised” the IPCA had found police’s matrix not fit-for-purpose. 

“I see this regularly and I’m really urging police to take on board this report and urgently make plans to upskill and train people at the frontline but also their specialist sexual assault teams.” 

She said it was “atrocious” that police were unable to link the other woman’s complaint. 

“I don’t have enough words to describe how poor that is.” 

“At the very least, you’d expect any society’s police system to be able to take a complaint and cross-check it within the system against a name to be able to identify risk and that clearly didn’t happen.” 

Money also wanted to acknowledge Yaqubi’s family and friends. 

“I’m really conscious that this report and subsequent media will cause them further distress, but I also think that it’s really important that the public understand and that the police understand that the public are their watchdogs and we’d expect much better.” 

Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children chair Leonie Morris told the Herald it was “clearer than ever” that Yaqubi would “probably still be alive today” if stalking was criminalised in New Zealand. 

“The IPCA’s report spells out the need for police to have the appropriate tools to protect victims of stalking: stalking can be a precursor to serious physical violence and homicide. 

“Thousands of people in Aotearoa New Zealand right now live with the terror of being stalked, without adequate legal protection. We urge Minister of Justice Paul Goldsmith to protect communities and criminalise stalking before somebody else is killed.” 

Morris cited the National Party publicly supporting stalking being criminalised prior to last year’s election. 

“We hope this report will help show how important it is to change the law now, without delay. We’re deeply worried history will repeat itself and someone else will be killed.” 

‘I’m in extreme fear’ 

Police earlier released a series of documents about Yaqubi’s death to the Herald under the Official Information Act. 

The documents include Yaqubi’s first online report to police on October 25, 2022. 

She said Singh had since January that year been threatening to throw acid on her face via messages as well as “threatening my safety and life verbally”. 

He had also harassed and stalked her in public and outside her workplace as well as on her way home. 

She said they met about a year and a half ago on Queen St, while he was working. An “acquaintance” was made, they had a coffee date out of “pity”, she said. 

“Made clear I saw nothing further but since then has continued to harass me regarding his hopes for a future with me.” 

Singh had “somehow found my workplace and began showing up and harassing me”, she said. 

He had also made “countless” social media profiles to message and harass her. 

On October 25 she sent police eight screenshots of the “threatening texts” to police. 

On December 3, Yaqubi went to the police again to update her previous report. 

The event details in the police internal system say: “The situation has escalated even further”. 

“I’m in extreme fear of the actions he may take against me that would result in life-threatening results.” 

A police officer spoke with Yaqubi and requested she go to a police station to give a statement about what had occurred and to take all the supporting information. 

On December 6 Singh sent her two videos. One was taken outside her house. 

An excerpt from Yaqubi’s witness interview from December 6 says Singh, who was a security guard on Queen St, would “be staring at me whenever I walked past” for about a month. 

She said during their initial coffee she found him “really pushy” and she left after 30 minutes. 

He continued trying to contact her using other names. 

“I knew it was him because he always used the name KB and with his photo.” 

He also sent her threatening messages on Instagram. 

On August 24, 2022, he texted “Hey if you don’t wanna say anything I will kidnap u n give u 365 days to fall in love with me”. 

Two days later he texted: “Hey Zana, sorry to say I think I’m gonna end up throwing acid on ur face, I just don’t think so u r a good girl”. She said the message was later unsent after she said she was going to report it to police. 

Singh also added members of her family on Instagram. 

According to the police’s internal system, a physical copy of her statement was mailed to Mt Roskill Station on December 12. 

That day Yaqubi called a police officer and checked on the investigation progress. The officer advised the case was awaiting for assignment. 

Yaqubi said she would like to be contacted by email only, and that she did not want police to visit her home address, call her or text her. 

A letter to Yaqubi, dated December 20, two days after she was murdered, said the case had been forwarded to the Henderson Police inquiries team for “further assessment”. 

On December 18, Yaqubi finished work at the Westgate Mall and caught the bus to Royal Heights. 

She got off the bus and walked to an alleyway near the Waitākere Badminton Centre on her way to the home she shared with her family in Cedar Heights Ave. 

Singh was waiting in the car park of the centre in his Toyota. 

When he saw her walking in the alleyway, he approached her wielding a large knife. 

When Yaqubi saw Singh, she tried to call the police. 

He stabbed her several times in the stomach and chest. 

As she fell to the ground screaming, Singh continued stabbing as he stood over her. 

When members of the public approached, he retreated down the alley, jumped a fence and fled in his car. 

Yaqubi died at the scene. She had suffered 12 stab wounds along with defensive injuries. 

Singh was arrested at home the next day. He had not previously appeared before the court. 

Where to get help: 

If you are in immediate danger dial 111 and ask for the police 

Women’s Refuge National Helpline - Crisisline: 0800 REFUGE / 0800 733 843 

shine* Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0508 744 633 

Shakti 24-hour crisis line with multi-lingual staff: 0800 SHAKTI / 0800 742 584 

Rape Crisis: National Call Line: 0800 88 33 00 

Safe to talk - Kōrero mai ka ora24/7 Sexual harm helpline: 0800 044 334 or text 4334 

Elder Abuse Response Service National Helpline: 0800 EA NOT OK / 0800 32 668 65 

Hey Bro helpline: 0800 HeyBro / 0800 439 276 - supporting men to be free from violence 

Family Violence Information Line: 0800 456 450 (available 9.00am -11.00pm daily) 

Sam Sherwood is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers crime. He is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2022 and has worked as a journalist for 10 years. 

This article was originally posted on the NZ Herald here. 

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