This experimental study investigates the dynamical transition from stable operation to thermoacoustic instability in a turbulent bluff-body stabilised dump combustor. We conduct experiments to acquire acoustic pressure and local heat release rate fluctuations and use them to characterise this transition as we decrease the equivalence ratio towards a fuel-lean setting. More importantly, we observe a significant increase in local heat release rate fluctuations at critical locations well before thermoacoustic instability occurs. One of these critical locations is the stagnation zone in front of the bluff-body. By strategically positioning slots (perforations) on the bluff-body, we ensure the reduction of the growth of local heat release rate fluctuations at the stagnation zone near the bluff-body well before the onset of thermoacoustic instability. We show that this reduction in local heat release rate fluctuations inhibits the transition to thermoacoustic instability. We find that modified configurations of the bluff-body that do not quench the local heat release rate fluctuations at the stagnation zone result in the transition to thermoacoustic instability. We also reveal that an effective suppression strategy based on the growth of local heat release rate fluctuations requires an optimisation of the slots' area-ratio for a given bluff-body position. Further, the suppression strategy also depends on the spatial distribution of perforations on the bluff-body. Notably, an inappropriate distribution of the slots, which does not quench the local heat release rate fluctuations at the stagnation zone but creates new critical regions, may even result in a dramatic increase in the amplitudes of pressure oscillations. © The Author(s) 2023.