Death of 69 year old man in Hamilton, 26 September 2013
During the afternoon of Thursday 12 September 2013, a 69 year old man who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease was reported missing from North Lanarkshire. Police Scotland started a missing person enquiry.
Over the following fifteen days a number of enquiries to trace the missing man were conducted by Police Scotland. This included following up on possible witness sightings of the man. Unfortunately, the majority of these sightings, although well-intentioned, proved to be false. The enquiry ultimately focused around footage of the missing person captured from public and private space CCTV.
As a result of further enquiries and CCTV footage, the man's body was found on the evening of Thursday 26 September 2013 by police within a wooded area of a golf course in South Lanarkshire. There were no suspicious circumstances. It has not been possible to determine the date and time of death.
The overall management and response by police to the missing person enquiry was referred by Police Scotland to the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) requesting an independent investigation into the police handling of the enquiry and to consider important concerns raised by the family.
PIRC investigators interviewed family members, medical professionals, staff from other agencies, obtained and examined statements from police officers, listened to audio recordings, examined police command and control and other records and visited the scene.
Following examination of the available evidence the overall findings of the PIRC are that:
- From the available information it should have been evident to Police Scotland that the man was a High Risk vulnerable missing person.
- Supervisory officers incorrectly downgraded the missing person risk assessment from High Risk to Medium Risk during the initial part of the enquiry. This decision was amended, and the PIRC investigation found that Police Scotland's initial actions were appropriate in terms of the missing person protocol.
- Consideration should have been given to appointing a senior investigating officer, a dedicated person for family contact and a dedicated enquiry team at the earliest stage of the enquiry. This may have alleviated family contact difficulties and reduced the family's distress.
- A number of officers lacked knowledge of the Memorandum of Understanding between the public transport company involved and Police Scotland relating to travel concession cards as a means of enquiry to trace the movement of individuals as outlined in the Police Scotland procedure. This lack of knowledge significantly hindered progress of the investigation.
- Some officers failed to retain all notes of decisions made during the missing person enquiry, which is at variance with Police Scotland procedure.
- Written statements were not obtained from a number of significant witnesses during the missing person enquiry.
- Significant CCTV footage, although viewed, was not seized and was lost to the enquiry.
Following examination of all the available evidence and information in respect of this investigation the Commissioner recommends to Police Scotland that:
- It consider the early establishment of a dedicated enquiry team in the management and conduct of vulnerable missing person enquiries;
- It raise awareness among staff of the travel concession card as a means of identifying the travel route of a missing person in line with Police Scotland procedure.
- It should stress to staff the importance of obtaining written statements from significant witnesses;
- It should emphasise to staff the importance of early seizure of CCTV footage to prevent loss.