Posted: Friday 23 June 2017

Commissioner releases findings on PIRC investigation into police missing person case


The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) has identified a number of failings and made recommendations to police on their handling of a missing person case involving an elderly woman with dementia, who was later found dead.

Janet McKay, 88, had been missing for eight days when her body was found on 24 September 2015 in the area of Rothesay Docks, Clydebank.

The investigation focused on how Police Scotland managed the missing person enquiry after the matter was referred to the PIRC by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

In her report to the COPFS, the Commissioner found procedural and investigative failings in the Police Scotland enquiry. The report was shared with the Chief Constable at the time in April 2016 to allow him to take immediate action to ensure future missing person enquiries are not subject to the same failings.

Following agreement with the COPFS, Commissioner Kate Frame is now able to publish a summary of her findings.

She said:

"This investigation highlighted a number of investigative and procedural failings by Police Scotland in conducting a missing person enquiry for a vulnerable, elderly woman who suffered from dementia."

A statement on behalf of the family of Janet McKay said:

"We are aware of the findings of the PIRC report and are pleased to note that a number of recommendations have been made. We hope that going forward Police Scotland will look carefully at these recommendations and that valuable lessons have been learned.

"This has been a difficult time for our family. Janet was a loving mother and grandmother and we are thankful for the support we have received but would ask for our privacy to be respected to allow us to come to terms with her loss in peace."

(Notes to Editors: The extended family of Janet McKay have asked the PIRC to request that media outlets do not make attempts to contact them at this time)

In undertaking this investigation, PIRC investigators interviewed members of the public, police officers and staff. They also examined police statements, CCTV evidence, telephone calls and police radio transmissions and scrutinised police files, including missing persons forms, command and control logs and other evidence.

The Commissioner found that Police Scotland reacted swiftly to the report of Mrs McKay as a missing person on the afternoon of 16 September 2016 by immediately classifying her as a 'high risk' missing person due to her vulnerability and they launched a full-scale enquiry, including ground and air searches, house-to-house enquiries and notifications to bus and taxi companies.

However in her report, the Commissioner identified several failures in how the missing person enquiry was conducted.

They included procedural failings that showed many of the police officers involved in the enquiry had not read or were not fully aware of guidance contained in Police Scotland's Missing Person Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), resulting in them not following standard procedures.

The Commissioner also found that although Police Scotland conducted a timely search for Mrs McKay, officers failed to obtain initial statements from key witnesses and failed to accurately record some of the initial information gathered.

It was also found that some items of evidence taken by officers were not properly processed or recorded.

Other procedural failings were identified by the Commissioner in the management of the investigation that she recommended Police Scotland should resolve without delay.

In her report, the Commissioner also identified a number of investigative failings. She found that officers failed to take a statement from a key witness, the elderly woman's carer, who was known to have visited Mrs McKay's home on the day she went missing and who would have been able to describe what she had been wearing.

The Commissioner also discovered that on the following day, police supervisors failed to act promptly, in response to a reported sighting of Mrs McKay on the day she had gone missing.

The PIRC investigation also revealed that two days after Mrs McKay went missing, police officers failed to pass on significant information about her being seen on the day she went missing. When this failure was recognised four days later, there was a further delay when an officer failed to pass on the address of the person who had seen Mrs McKay to other officers, causing further delay in progressing this information.

The Commissioner also found that three days into the enquiry, there was another delay when a witness told Police Scotland he had seen Mrs McKay boarding a bus to Clydebank near to her home. Despite holding information on its Vulnerable Persons Database (VPD) about Ms McKay's previous use of buses and specifically her use of a bus to Clydebank, police did not follow up this information until six days after she went missing, on 22 September 2015.

Lastly, the Commissioner found that some police supervisors failed to check that lines of enquiry had been properly completed. An example of this was a failure to obtain relevant CCTV footage showing Ms McKay on board the bus to Clydebank on the day she went missing.

She added:

"I have made a number of recommendations which I have already shared with the Chief Constable, in light of this case, to enable him to put measures in place and take corrective action to prevent such failings in the future."

Among the recommendations were that: 

  • in high risk, vulnerable missing person investigations police should consider setting up an electronic or manual Major Incident Room (MIT), overseen by an appointed senior investigating officer, to effectively manage the enquiry and follow standard and well-established major incident management protocols. 
  • police must ensure that all its officers and staff are fully aware of the procedures to be followed in high-risk missing person enquiries 
  • action should be taken on the failings highlighted in the investigation and measures put in place to ensure the failings do not happen again in future high risk missing person enquiries.
  • police should ensure that any items seized as evidence, particularly CCTV, are properly recorded, prioritised and where identified as important, reviewed immediately.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Please click here for full report.

 

<  Return to news