Officers face misconduct meetings after `three-day response to drowning incident`

Three police officers are to face misconduct proceedings after they were accused of “incivility and lack of professionalism” while dealing with a bereaved family.

Sep 6, 2017

Three police officers are to face misconduct proceedings after they were accused of “incivility and lack of professionalism” while dealing with a bereaved family. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) told Thames Valley Police (TVP) to improve the way it approaches grieving families after criticism of how it handled the case of 16-year-old Ellis Downes who drowned in the River Thames in May 2016 after going swimming. TVP and Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service conducted a joint search-and-rescue operation when the teenager was reported missing. But the officers were found to have a case to answer for misconduct in the circumstances surrounding the immediate aftermath of his disappearance, the IPCC confirmed. TVP has agreed with the IPCC findings. After examining the actions TVP officers took over a three-day ‘rescue and recovery’ period and their interaction with the 16-year-old’s family and friends, the IPCC identified a delay in allowing a civilian dive team access to the river due to a misunderstanding as to whether they had the correct authorisation. When the National Crime Agency-certified forensic search experts Specialist Group International (SGI) showed up, they were prevented from entering the river due to concerns an external search team could “hinder a planned and coordinated police search operation”. Founder and chief executive of SGI Peter Faulding claimed the force refused to help or even speak with the search team, and that around 20 officers stood by and watched as Ellis’s family helped carry the divers’ equipment to the water. The IPCC recommended that the force reviews the accreditation and use of civilian diving teams to prevent any future confusion. TVP has confirmed it will be reviewing its policies around rescue-and-recovery phases of searches and the circumstances when a dive team will be considered. It will also implement improved bereavement training for frontline officers following complaints from the Downes family about how they were dealt with. Speaking at the time of the 16-year-old’s death, his father Darren Downes said the force showed a “complete lack of compassion”. IPCC Associate Commissioner Guido Liguori said: “This was a tragic accident that has seen a family devastated by Ellis’s death and my thoughts are with them and Ellis’s friends. “While we found the actions of those officers directing the search to be in line with police policies, we identified changes that could be made to improve how civilian dive teams are used to assist the police in such circumstances.”

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