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Police changes after death discovery delay

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A MIX-UP by police led to a four-and-a-half hour delay before a vulnerable Dumfries woman was found dead in her home.

Criticism has been delivered by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) over the confused handling of an alert raised last year by the woman’s daughter, and has led to changes being recommended.

Kate Frame said: “This case highlights the need for Police Scotland to ensure that all available relevant information is accurately transmitted to front line operational officers and for them to act on it appropriately to achieve the service the public expect.”

She added: “Whilst I recognise from the medical evidence obtained in this particular case that it is likely the 52-year-old woman was dead by the time the alarm was raised, it does not diminish the particular failures identified or the additional distress caused to the woman’s family.”

On February 19 last year the woman’s daughter contacted Police Scotland late at night, expressing concern for her mother’s safety, informing them she had previously self-harmed and attempted suicide.

However, an issue over the mapping system and the command and control systems used by Police Scotland saw the woman’s address transposed, and then misinterpreted by Area Control Room (ACR) staff who sent officers to another nearby address.

Officers were instructed to attend within 15 minutes, but although they were provided with the 52-year-old woman’s name, the ACR did not pass on the details of her age, physical description and the fact she was a vulnerable person.

Arriving at the wrong address, they woke the 84-year-old female resident, and although noting her name did not realise the mistake.

They wrongly informed ARC they had located the woman, but did not provide her name.

No update was delivered to the daughter, but when she, her husband and a neighbour contacted police again they were assured the woman was fine and would be phoning her daughter.

When the daughter visited her mother’s home, she once again contacted Police Scotland, and one of the officers who first attended realised the mistake.

On entering the property they found the woman dead from what later proved to be an overdose of prescription medication — suspected to have been taken accidentally.

Medical opinion suggested the likely time of death was between six to 24 hours before the woman was found.

A statement from the woman’s family said: “The past 18 months have placed an incredible strain on our family as we have tried to come to terms with the loss of a loving mother and understand the tragic circumstances behind her death.

“We are aware of the PIRC report and are pleased to note that a number of recommendations have been made.

“None of this will bring our mother back but we hope that going forward Police Scotland will look carefully at these recommendations and that valuable lessons have been learned.”

Police Scotland assistant chief constable, service and protection, Nelson Telfer has issued a statement.
Mr Telfer said: “Our thoughts remain with the woman’s family at this time. We are sorry for the distress and upset caused by our initial response to the incident.

“We acknowledge and accept the recommendations made by the commissioner in her report and took steps last year to address the issues she has now identified.

“The officers who attended the initial incident mistakenly identified another individual.”

He added: “Had this mistake not been made Police Scotland would not have updated her family that she was safe and well.

“Since the incident in February 2016, significant work has been undertaken to improve our Gazetteer system to ensure that address information is presented correctly on our systems.

“Area Control Room and Service Centre staff undertake regular training to assist our response to incidents involving risk and vulnerability. This is ongoing for all staff.

“We accept we did not get it right in this case and will continue to work to provide excellent front line policing across Scotland.”

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