A POLICE officer has told an inquest of his decision to release a violent man who went on to murder Blandford hairdresser Katrina O'Hara.

Detective Sergeant Andrew March said he didn't believe Stuart Thomas posed a risk to his ex-girlfriend.

Thomas had been arrested for threatening to kill himself and Ms O'Hara by driving their car into a tree fours days earlier.

The mother-of-three's children had also told police that Thomas had been violent with her and had made threats.

He was held in custody for six hours out of a possible 24 before being released without Ms O'Hara being informed.

DS March, the custody sergeant, told the hearing that he made the "final decision" and in his opinion the police did not have enough grounds to hold Thomas.

He added that he didn't think the roofer would breach the terms of his bail by offending again.

The inquest was previously told that Thomas, now aged 53, came across as "polite and plausible" to officers during his time under arrest.

But after being bailed he indirectly contacted hairdresser Ms O'Hara, 44, to get her to drop the charges against him.

Seven days after being released Thomas went to the barber shop in Blandford where the victim worked and stabbed her to death.

He is serving 26 years in prison for her murder.

The Bournemouth inquest into Ms O'Hara's death heard Thomas was arrested on December 30 2015.

DS March spoke with DC Ian Davies, who had conducted the police interview, and was told further victim statements needed to be taken to build a case against Thomas.

He said the 24 hours they could hold him in custody, which would have taken them to 4.24pm on December 31, may not have been long enough.

DS March said: "I was informed by DC Davies that there were potentially outstanding enquiries requiring two victim statements and an examination needed to be carried out on Thomas' phone.

"We discussed whether or not this could be achieved in the time he was in custody or if this could be done while he was on police bail.

"A mobile phone must be examined by an appropriately trained person and when this gets done depends on the level of importance or seriousness of the case.

"There is no guarantee this can be achieved in 24 hours.

"There was also the need for the two statements and I had been informed by DC Davies the victim's daughter would not be available to speak until January 9.

"I was not satisfied we could have done all these enquiries in 24 hours.

"I did consider whether to remand Thomas in custody but we were satisfied there were not substantial grounds to believe he would commit further offences while on bail.

"He did have a previous conviction for harassment in 2014 and was subject to a restraining order but he had not breached this order.

"This previous offence to that was 20 years earlier.

"I knew he had made threats to harm himself but was told a mental health assessment had been completed and during the interview he said he had no intention of killing himself.

"Taking everything into account, my decision was he was unsuitable for remand in custody."

DC Joanne Lawrence, who sat in on Thomas' interview, said she had checked his history beforehand and was aware of his previous convictions.

She said: "I did a check and saw Thomas had a previous history with a previous person.

"He was convicted and given a restraining order.

"I knew about a previous harassment report by Katrina O'Hara on Thomas and that there had been an incident between the two parties at an industrial estate where it was alleged Katrina O'Hara assaulted Thomas.

"Thomas had a mental health assessment before the interview and we were told he was fit to be interviewed."

The inquest has previously heard police were unable to tell Ms O'Hara that Thomas has been released after they seized her mobile phone as evidence.

The move left her feeling vulnerable as she had no means of contacting them if he went after her.

Ms O'Hara was originally from Bathgate, West Lothian, but moved south later in her life and lived in Okeford Fitzpaine, near Blandford, with daughter Morgan O'Hara.

The inquest continues.