Devon

Valon Pitts death: Devon and Cornwall Police failed man, report says

Valon Pitts, who was also known as Chang Somers
Image caption Valon Pitts had made a number of calls to police in a distressed state

A mental health patient found dead in a garden a month after going missing was failed by police, a report has said.

Valon Pitts, 36, was reported missing by his family on 31 July 2012 and was found dead on 22 August in Devon.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said police call handlers "completely missed the signs" that Mr Pitts was in danger.

Devon and Cornwall Police admitted the response was "below the standard expected".

Image caption The body of Chang Somers was found in a garden in Winner Street, Paignton
Image caption Valon Pitts's sister Michelle Williams: "It brought us to tears trying to get these people to listen"

The IPCC said Mr Pitts, who had schizophrenia and was also known as Chang Somers, had contacted police several times before he died, "when his mental health was clearly deteriorating".

Mr Pitts, who lived in Stonehouse in Plymouth, had also been seen taking tablets on the street in Paignton on 25 July, the last day he was seen alive.

Police were alerted by an onlooker but they did not send any officers.

The IPCC said it found "a number of individual failings by several members of police control room staff who either handled calls poorly or failed to take the appropriate action".

'Critical changes'

IPCC Associate Commissioner Tom Milsom said: "Several officers and police staff in the control room came into contact with Mr Somers.

"Some recognised his vulnerability and sought to pass on messages and give him reassurance.

"Others completely missed the signs that were there and did not recognise and share information effectively."

As a result of the IPCC investigation two call handlers have received a final written warning and two more were given written warnings.

At an inquest in Plymouth a jury concluded the death was accidental. The cause of death was "unascertained" because of the deteriorated condition of the body.

Mr Pitts's sister Michelle Williams said after the inquest: "It brought us to tears trying to get these people to listen.

"To beg for my brother's life is not right."

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton said a "significant number of critical changes" had been made to police call handling as a result of the investigation.

Call handlers now receive a significantly higher amount of training to help them identify signs of a person with mental health issues.

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