Police criticised over missing man's death in Edinburgh
- 22 January 2014
- From the section Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland
A missing man was found dead in his own home by police who took six days to check the property, it has emerged.
The 37-year-old, who had mental health problems, was on a home visit from hospital when he was reported missing on Saturday 8 September 2013.
But it was not until the following Sunday that officers forced entry to his home.
Officers' handling of the case has been criticised by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.
It is the third time in three months that police in Edinburgh have been criticised by the independent watchdog for failures in the way they dealt with the case of a vulnerable man.
The commissioner, Prof John McNeill, has recommended changes to procedures and additional training at E Division of Police Scotland.
Police Scotland said the division had made several changes to its procedures in the wake of the case.
The commissioner's report said the man, who suffered from mental ill health and had a history of self-harming, was a patient at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
He had been reported missing by the hospital on Sunday 8 September when he did not return from a weekend visit to his mother's home.
His mother raised repeated concerns about her son's well-being but it was not until the evening of Saturday 14 September that officers forced entry to his Edinburgh home, where his body was found.
There were no suspicious circumstances.
The date and time of death has not been determined but it was clear that the man had been dead for some time.
In his report, Prof McNeil highlighted "a lack of clear ownership and accountability" in respect of the missing person inquiry.
He said numerous police supervisors merely endorsed the determinations of their colleagues without undertaking a critical examination of all the available information and evidence.
The man had been initially assessed by E Division of Police Scotland as a low risk missing person and limited enquiries were undertaken to trace him.
Following a review several days into the inquiry, the risk was raised to medium.
None of the police supervisors involved considered the level of assessed risk and concern sufficient to justify forcing entry to his home.
The investigation also uncovered that officers had followed the previous Lothian and Borders police procedures for investigating missing person cases rather than the newer Police Scotland protocols.
As a result, the commissioner said, officers did not obtain all available and relevant information following the initial missing person report and subsequently did not undertake thorough enquiries as required by the Police Scotland procedures.
In his findings, Prof McNeill recommended that supervisory ranks in E Division receive additional training in the management and conduct of missing person investigations and calls for the protocol followed in this case to be brought into line with the national missing person procedures.
He said: "In this case there were repeated failures to update the Police National Computer with appropriate warning signals, which would have informed the missing person enquiry.
"This case highlights the importance of accurately recording all available information on missing persons and making that information available to operational officers.
"I hope that the recommendations I have made as a result of this tragic case will contribute to improvements in the police response and management of all vulnerable missing person enquiries."
Earlier this month the commissioner reported on a man found dead after officers had failed to instigate a full missing person inquiry.
And last October, he criticised police after a man with mental ill health fell seven floors from flats in Leith shortly after officers returned him home.
Asst Ch Con Wayne Mawson, the lead officer for missing person policy for Police Scotland, said the force was examining the commissioner's findings.
He added: "Since the launch of Police Scotland in April 2013 we have worked to ensure that missing persons investigations are conducted professionally and consistently across the country.
'Modernise our approach'
"We have introduced into every division a missing person co-ordinator. We have also created a national oversight group led by a detective superintendent.
"This group scrutinises ongoing High Risk cases to ensure every opportunity is taken to trace those reported missing to us. Local police commanders have oversight of investigations in their divisions and these are monitored daily.
"We recognise that from the moment someone is reported missing to us, our response has to be the best to maximise the chances of tracing that person.
"The police in Scotland dealt with more than 32,000 missing person investigations last year. Each of those is unique in terms of its complexity and circumstances and those reported missing to us are often vulnerable.
"We recognise that in this case the standards normally be expected of the police have not been met. We will look carefully at the findings presented here and continue to modernise our approach to missing persons investigations to ensure we continue to keep people safe."
Ch Supt Mark Williams, the Local Police Commander for Edinburgh, said: "I acknowledge the findings of the commissioner and the recommendations he has made.
"Since this incident was reported, the division has made several changes to protocols to ensure they align with national procedures."