Missing woman inquiry ‘mismanaged’
Friday 11th October 2013, 5:12PM BST.
Police “mismanaged” an inquiry into the disappearance of a woman who later committed suicide, an investigation has found.
Professor John McNeill, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), has made six recommendations to the chief constable of Police Scotland, including a review of guidance for officers dealing with potential suicide cases.
It comes after an independent investigation into the handling of the disappearance of a 36-year-old woman in Edinburgh earlier this year.
Her body was found by a dog walker on June 30 in the Clermiston Woods area of the city after officers dismissed concerns she was suicidal.
Police had received a call from the woman’s estranged husband the previous evening to say he was worried that his wife appeared to want to kill herself.
Officers were aware that she had recently tried to commit suicide, the PIRC investigation found.
They visited the woman’s home in Edinburgh but concluded that the call was malicious after interviewing her and her 16-year-old son. She was not seen alive again after leaving her home later that evening.
A missing person inquiry was launched after a suicide note was found at her home the following day.
The PIRC investigation found the case was not immediately treated as a high priority because officers judged that the note did not contain any obvious suicidal tendencies and could have been fabricated.
The woman’s phone was active when she was first reported missing but the battery had died by the time officers tried to trace it, “hampering” the investigation.
“Police officers erred in their assessment of the circumstances and this impacted upon their decision-making, which included that the call appeared to have been malicious,” the PIRC report said.
“The missing person inquiry was mismanaged. The missing person inquiry should have been immediately graded a high priority.
“Communications data to locate the woman’s phone should have been sought on an emergency basis early in the i nquiry. Delays in obtaining and interpreting this data hampered the investigation.
“A search for the woman should have been undertaken.”
The PIRC also found that additional information from the woman’s family about her intentions may have allowed the force to “reappraise” its earlier decisions.
Mr McNeill said: “The Chief Constable referred the overall management and response by his officers to these incidents to me to carry out an independent investigation.
“Following my investigation, I have made a number of recommendations both specific to this case and more wide-ranging, particularly in relation to the guidance that is available to officers dealing with incidents such as this.
“In my report I have asked Police Scotland to examine and update its Mental Health and Place of Safety standard operating procedure with additional guidance for officers dealing with persons reported to be suicidal.”
Also included in the recommendations is a call for an investigation into the actions of the police officers who dealt with the missing person inquiry.
Police Scotland should also ensure that all reports of suicidal intentions are treated with “due gravity”.
A force spokesman said: “Police Scotland thanks the PIRC for their report, which outlines a number of findings following an investigation. Our thoughts are also with the family of the deceased at this difficult time.
“It is clear that a number of learning points exist in relation to this incident and we will study all the evidence provided by the PIRC.
“We note that the PIRC have made a number of recommendations, which includes investigating the actions of specific officers.
“This point, alongside all recommendations, will be investigated to ensure Police Scotland provide the highest of standards of service to the public.
“The force aims to continually improve and will rigorously review the points specified by the PIRC to ensure we learn from this investigation.”