PIRC criticises ACR response following ‘preventable’ death of vulnerable woman

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) has found several failings in the way Police Scotland responded to 999 calls made by and in relation to a 50-year-old woman before she was murdered by her brother.

Nov 7, 2017

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) has found several failings in the way Police Scotland responded to 999 calls made by and in relation to a 50-year-old woman before she was murdered by her brother. Elizabeth Bowe was found seriously injured at her home in St Andrews on September 17, 2016 – almost an hour and a half after she had phoned Police Scotland on the emergency number. Her injuries were so severe that she died three days later. The matter was referred to the PIRC by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The PIRC concluded that Ms Bowe’s death may have been prevented if officers had attended in response to her initial call. Ms Bowe was known to Police Scotland and had been recorded on its systems as a vulnerable person who had been the subject of domestic abuse, including allegations she had been assaulted by her brother Charles Gordon. On September 17 last year, Ms Bowe called Police Scotland using her brother’s phone to report that he had stolen her mobile, which she needed to “call for help” as she was a vulnerable person in a “domestic violence situation”. The service advisor created an incident report and highlighted that she had been the victim of domestic violence by her estranged partner. Ms Bowe was told officers would attend and the call was categorised as a Grade 2 priority – requiring an urgent response within 15 minutes. The incident was then transferred to the Area Control Room (ACR) at Bilston Glen where a communications controller decided a crime had not been committed and there was no requirement to send police resources to deal with the incident. At 8.12pm, the controller attempted to contact Ms Bowe via her brother’s mobile phone and left a voicemail message stating that as her brother was in the house, a theft had not taken place, and officers would therefore not be attending. Almost 90 minutes later, Ms Bowe’s brother called 999 to report that he had killed his sister. Officers were immediately sent to the address where she was found to have serious injuries. The PIRC said Police Scotland had taken steps to ensure Ms Bowe’s safety by installing an alarm in her home, carrying out vulnerability assessments and taking part in multi-agency response meetings. However, the service advisor who dealt with Ms Bowe was criticised for failing to record the fact that she was a vulnerable adult, was in a violent relationship and required her mobile phone to report matters relating to her personal safety. Although the advisor graded the call correctly, the communications controller decided to downgrade the call contrary to the force’s Command and Control standard operating procedure. Commissioner Kate Frame said: “Had Police Scotland timeously dispatched resources in accordance with their call priority system following Elizabeth Bowe’s 999 call one hour and 24 minutes earlier, officers may have arrived at her home prior to her receiving the injuries from which she died and thereby prevented her death.” She recommended that Police Scotland ensure calls for assistance from known vulnerable people receive an appropriate response. And the staff within the ACR at Bilston Glen should receive appropriate guidance on the identification, management and prioritisation of calls from vulnerable people, the PIRC suggested. Assistant Chief Constable Nelson Telfer said the force has given risk and vulnerability training to more than 800 staff members, which helps to identify and assess risk at the first point of contact, as well as capturing the right and relevant information. “Police Scotland receives tens of thousands of calls every year regarding vulnerable persons and further guidance has been given to call handlers and Area Control Room staff with regards to the downgrading and closure of incidents,” he added. “A revised process is now in place for incidents where vulnerability is identified which ensures closer supervisory scrutiny both within C3 and within Local Policing Divisions.” Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said:

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