Posted: Thursday 20 July 2017

Commissioner releases findings on PIRC investigation into the police response to reports of concern for vulnerable man later found dead


The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) has found a number of failings in the way police responded to reports of concern about a man suffering from Asperger's Syndrome, who was later found dead.

The Commissioner has now made a number of recommendations to the Chief Constable.

Andrew Bow, 37, who had learning difficulties and was recorded on the police database as a vulnerable person, was last seen by police officers on 12 March 2016, in Edinburgh, when they found him in a confused and paranoid state. They took him to hospital for treatment before later taking him back to his flat.

A few days after that, Police Scotland started to receive reports of concern for Mr Bow and about damage to his flat. The first of these reports was made on 16 March and included a report that he may have committed suicide, however officers did not attend his home until 23 March 2016, when he was found dead.

The circumstances of Mr Bow's death were referred to the PIRC by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The PIRC investigation focused on Police Scotland's handling of telephone calls received in relation to Mr Bow's welfare.

In her report to the COPFS, the Commissioner found a series of failings in how Police Scotland, particularly the Area Control Room (ACR) staff at Bilston Glen, dealt with numerous reports of concern for Mr Bow.

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

She said:

"This investigation identified a number of failings by Police Scotland over a seven day period, in their response to repeated reports of concern for Andrew Bow, who suffered from Asperger's Syndrome and learning difficulties".

In undertaking this investigation, PIRC investigators interviewed members of the public, police officers and staff at Bilston Glen ACR. They also examined police statements, telephone calls and police radio transmissions.

Investigators also scrutinised police resource levels for the City of Edinburgh, to determine the availability of officers to attend calls, examined command and control logs, standard operating procedures and policies and other evidence.

The Commissioner found that Andrew Bow was last seen on 12 March 2016 when police officers attended Holyrood Park after a member of the public reported that he was acting strangely. He was taken to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital where he was examined by the Mental Health Assessment Team and deemed fit to be released back to his home.  Police officers and medical staff took Mr Bow home and the incident was recorded on police systems.

The PIRC investigation found that Mr Bow's bank card was last used on 15 March 2016, indicating a strong possibility that he was alive at that time.

Later that night, one of Andrew Bow's neighbours reported to the City of Edinburgh Council that the windows of Mr Bow's flat were broken. Due to the confusing street and house numbering system at those flats the neighbour provided an incorrect address for Mr Bow's flat.

The following day, council staff considered that the report of damage to Mr Bow's property required investigation and a report was sent to Police Scotland requesting that checks be carried out however no action was taken.

Five days later, at about 5.25pm on 21 March 2016, a local shopkeeper called 999 to report to Police Scotland that the windows of Mr Bow's flat were broken. In recognition of the confusing street and house numbering system, the shopkeeper offered to remain at his shop until 6pm so that he could point out the correct flat to police officers.  However, as they considered that no police resources were available at that time, ACR staff at Bilston Glen did not send officers to attend the call at that time. 

More than five hours later, at 10.54pm that night, ACR staff attempted to contact the shopkeeper to check when he would be available to assist officers in identifying Mr Bow's flat and also to let him know when the police would be likely to attend. On receiving no response from the shopkeeper's phone, ACR staff updated the police system to show that the shopkeeper's premises were now closed and subsequently updated the system to show that no resources were available to attend the incident.

About 9.45am on 22 March 2016, the shopkeeper again contacted staff at Police Scotland's at Bilston Glen Area Control Room, after calling 999, to raise his concerns once more and again offered to show the police the location of the flat. Despite linking the shopkeeper's call from the previous day to this second call from him, ACR staff again did not to send officers to Mr Bow's flat and again determined that no police resources were available to be dispatched.

The Commissioner discovered that at about 6.31pm later that day, another neighbour contacted the ACR to report her "concerns" for Mr Bow's welfare, reporting that he suffered from mental ill health and that the windows of his flat were broken. At this point, ACR staff were aware of the two previous un-actioned 999 calls and of concerns being expressed for the occupant to the effect that he may have 'hurt himself' or 'committed suicide'. Again, no officers were sent to Mr Bow's flat at that time.

On 23 March 2016, a week after Police Scotland received the initial report, a police sergeant in the Edinburgh area read details of the incident on the police system and decided to send officers to Mr Bow's flat. At 9.30am, they forced entry and found Mr Bow dead inside.

The post mortem examination was unable to provide an estimated time, date or cause of death.

The Commissioner identified a number of failings in how Police Scotland responded to the reports of concern for Mr Bow.

She determined that Police Scotland failed to action the report received on 16 March 2016 and then failed in its response to the three subsequent calls made by members of the public between 21 and 22 March 2016.

In relation to the first neighbour's report, the Commissioner found that the police officer who received the report on 16 March 2016 did not raise an incident report which would have provided an opportunity for police resources to be sent to check on Mr Bow's welfare.  

In relation to the first telephone call on 21 March 2016, the Commissioner noted that despite the fact that it was graded as a Grade 3 call, requiring the dispatch of officers within 40 minutes and the shopkeeper who called at 1725 hours indicated that he would be prepared to stay on for approximately 35 minutes to point out the flat to police officers, no officers attended within the response time at the flat which is located within a few minutes' walk of a central Edinburgh police office.

In relation to the second and third calls on 21 and 22 March 2016, whilst no police resources were dispatched on the basis that no resources were available, the Commissioner found that community policing officers were in fact available. Finally, the Commissioner found that the information provided by the third caller should have generated police resources to be dispatched within 15 minutes but they were not dispatched until almost 15 hours later.

Statements taken during the PIRC investigation from police officers and civilian staff working in the ACR stated it was not uncommon for Grade 3 calls to remain un-actioned for days before being passed on to officers to deal with. Some ACR Sergeants added that a significant percentage of these kind of incidents, which required police officers to be dispatched within 40 minutes, did not meet timescales.

The Commissioner added:

"It is particularly concerning that despite several members of the public contacting the police to express their concerns, Police Scotland appear to have taken no action in relation to the first approach and thereafter in response to the subsequent calls, failed to dispatch officers who were available, timeously, to investigate. 

 

"Whilst there may have been confusion in identifying the correct address from the original report, the person who contacted the police on the second occasion offered to remain at his premises and point out the flat to officers.  Had that opportunity been taken, the police would have been able to identify the deceased's flat and investigate matters sooner.

 

"Since it has not been possible to establish precisely when Andrew Bow died, it is not certain whether an earlier response by police could have led to him being found alive and his life saved.

 

"I have made a number of recommendations to the Chief Constable to ensure the handling of calls by staff at Bilston Glen are managed better, within the required timescales and that all available officers are sent to priority calls, especially those of concern about a vulnerable person." 

The Commissioner recommended that:

  • Police Scotland take action to improve the handling and management of calls dealt with by staff at their Area Control Room (ACR) at Bilston Glen.
  • ACR staff to ensure that they use all available operational resources for priority calls, particularly those expressing concern for the safety or security of the public.

To read the full report click here..

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