Oxford

Ellis Downes: Police apologise to family over drowning response

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Media captionDarren Downes said he felt like the police gave his family "no support"

Police have apologised to the family of Ellis Downes after the teenager died while playing in the River Thames.

The 16-year-old disappeared after entering the water at Culham, Oxfordshire, on Saturday evening.

His family said they were forced to hire a boat and find private divers to recover his body when they were left without police help.

Ellis's sister Alex said she was glad for the apology but added "words mean nothing without actions".

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In a Facebook video message, Thames Valley Police Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Ross said: "I am profoundly sorry for the treatment of the Downes family over the weekend, in particular the level of support, the level of compassion, the lack of information and communication that we afforded them, and in particular Mr and Mrs Downes and Ellis's two sisters.

"This fell far below the standards that we would expect from our staff and I apologise for that."

Image copyright Downes family
Image caption Ellis Downes disappeared under the water while playing with friends in Culham

Replying on her own Facebook page Alex Downes said she was "glad that the police made the first step by admitting they had done us wrong by referring themselves to the IPCC".

She added: "All we want now is for things to change about the way [Thames Valley Police] handle operations so that we can prevent this happening again in the future."

Ellis' father Darren Downes said he believed "a lost dog" would have got better treatment than his missing son.

Mr Downes said on the evening his son went missing his family sat for "hours and hours" without any contact from the police.

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Media captionPrivate dive firm boss Peter Faulding branded the police's obstruction of his team "disgusting"

He eventually discovered no divers had been used to search the river and his daughter Alex had to contact private companies.

Thames Valley Police axed its specialist search and recovery team, which carried out underwater operations, as a result of budget cuts in 2014.

Mr Downes said the private dive team was initially barred from entering the water, which delayed the search by several hours. Police relented when he threatened to "go down and jump in myself".

Dive team chief executive Peter Faulding has branded the police's obstruction of his team "disgusting" and said the operation was the worst he had seen in his career.

The police watchdog is looking at how Thames Valley Police handled the case.

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