Murder victim Kelly Wilkinson’s repeated visits to police described as ‘cop shopping’

In the final days before she was killed, Gold Coast woman Kelly Wilkinson visited police stations “almost every day” to warn she was in danger.

Last Wednesday, Wilkinson’s estranged husband, Brian Earl Johnston, pleaded guilty to the 27-year-old’s murder via video link from prison in the Brisbane Supreme Court – less than a month before his scheduled trial. A court previously heard Wilkinson’s body was found tied to a clothesline in the backyard of her Arundel home, where it had been doused in petrol and set alight, on the morning of April 20, 2021.

Johnston – who was “semiconscious” with serious burn injuries – was allegedly found by police near the home a short time later, and subsequently charged with murder and breaching a domestic violence order.

For weeks prior to her death, Wilkinson had appealed to police over fears for her safety.

“I am scared for my life, I am scared for my children’s life. We are not safe,” the mum-of-three told police, her sister, Danielle Carroll, later shared with the Gold Coast Bulletin.

“She was saying this to the police over and over, and nothing was done,” Ms Caroll said.

“There was no support, there was no safeguard.”

A report by The Guardian has now revealed that a police “occurrence” report from the time described Wilkinson’s actions – visiting separate police stations, in Southport and Runaway Bay, as “cop shopping”.

The Queensland Police Service said in a statement that an internal investigation had identified “no allegations relating to the term ‘cop shopping’”. In the past, however, cops conceded there had been a “failure” in their interactions with Wilkinson.

“Wouldn’t you love to turn back time. It’s important that we examine to what extent it is a systemic failure,” police assistant commissioner in charge of domestic violence responses, Brian Codd, told reporters two days after Wilkinson’s murder, when asked if her death had been preventable.

“Ultimately it’s a failure. A woman has died. Somewhere along the line, she had engaged with the system, with us.”

The coroner’s court is yet to investigate the response to Wilkinson’s pleas for help. It is also unclear whether an inquest will be held.

It comes as an investigation into Wilkinson’s murder, conducted by the Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board, will be officially opened to see if her death could have been prevented.

Speaking to ABC Radio on Saturday, the Red Rose Foundation’s Betty Taylor, who serves on the board, said the review would go ahead now that Johnston had pleaded guilty.

The investigation is not about attributing blame, Ms Taylor said, but about identifying any systemic failings in the case.

“Obviously, there was a lot from police, but who else knew? What other services were involved? Is it a lack of co-ordination, or a lack of risk management?” she said.

Ms Taylor also urged the Queensland Police Service to release the findings of an internal review, launched in May 2021, to the public.

“There is nothing to be gained from three years down the track not releasing that,” she said.

“We know that there were police failings with Kelly, Doreen Langham, with Hannah Clarke, and so many others and we’re only going to turn this around when it’s all laid bare and we find the systemic gaps.

“I’m not talking about who’s right or who’s wrong but there are systemic flaws when this keeps happening over and over.”

The investigation will also look at whether Wilkinson had come into contact with community and health services.

“We need to work to address [these gaps],” Ms Taylor said, “but more importantly this review is so victims of domestic violence have the confidence that when they come forward, someone’s going to believe them and take their safety seriously.”

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