Insurers welcome Lords' decision on whether police can be sued for failing to act.

Police and their insurers won a landmark victory last week when the House of Lords ruled in their favour over threats to kill.

The House of Lords was considering the conjoined appeals over the cases of Van Colle v Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex.

The cases looked at whether a victim or their relatives can obtain civil redress against the police if they fail to take action or prevent the occurrence of a crime after being alerted to a threat to kill or inflict violence on that victim.

Simon Dixon, special public services manager at Zurich, said: “Had the judge ruled differently the impact on public funds would no doubt be significant, with crimes for which the police had no direct accountability for the outcome, nor ability to physically prevent, potentially being brought against them, usurping funds.”

In Giles Van Colle, Van Colle’s parents took the police to court under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention for failing to protect their son as a victim of homicide.

Giles Van Colle was murdered shortly before he was due to appear as a witness in a theft court case. They succeeded before the trial judge and were awarded £50,000 damages.

The House of Lords unanimously upheld the Chief Constable's appeal.

Commenting on the judgment, a spokesman for law firm Weightmans, which advised the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire, said: “Police forces and their insurers will welcome both decisions.

“If the appeals had been refused police forces would have been faced with the prospect of having to devote excessive time and attention to complaints or being constantly under the shadow of threatened litigation.”