Police criticised over handling of Edinburgh suicide case

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John McNeill, the independent police investigations and review commissioner
Image caption,
John McNeill has made recommendations for future cases

Police have been criticised for their handling of a suicide case in Edinburgh after investigators found they "mismanaged" the inquiry.

John McNeill, the independent police investigations and review commissioner, has made recommendations for the future handling of potential suicide cases.

It follows the discovery of a woman's body in Clermiston in June 2013.

Her body was found the day after officers had rejected claims by her family that she appeared suicidal.

In a summary of his findings, the commissioner made six separate recommendations to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland.

They range from calling for an investigation into the actions of the police officers dealing with the missing person inquiry, to a recommendation that the Police Scotland Mental Health and Place of Safety standard operating procedure (SOP) is updated to provide additional guidance to officers dealing with people reported to be suicidal.

Malicious call

The independent investigation looked into the handling of the 36-year-old woman's disappearance.

Her body was found by a dog walker in Clermiston Woods.

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 she had recently tried to commit suicide, the PIRC investigation found.

They visited the woman's home in Edinburgh but concluded 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 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.

Phone data

The PIRC report said: "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 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 inquiry. Delays in obtaining and interpreting this data hampered the investigation.

"A search for the woman should have been undertaken."

The PIRC also found additional information from the woman's family about her intentions may have allowed the force to "reappraise" its earlier decisions.

Professor McNeill said: "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."

Investigating actions

A Police Scotland 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."

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