PSNI ‘risks public confidence’ over missing person failings

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been asked to re-think its approach to missing person cases over “fundamental failures” that may have delayed the recovery of a body for more than three weeks.

Aug 31, 2017

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been asked to re-think its approach to missing person cases over “fundamental failures” that may have delayed the recovery of a body for more than three weeks. Officers discovered the body of Geng Feng Shi, 23, in the River Lagan in 2015, 22 days after he was first reported missing. A Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) investigation found the force was slow to categorise him as a missing person and missed chances to trace his movements after he was last seen. The case was one of six missing person investigations passed to the PONI between 2010 and 2016 that contained failures in supervision, searches and missed evidential opportunities. Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire described how the same mistakes are being made again and again. “I am aware that the PSNI gets on average 13,000 reports of people missing each year, very few of which are referred to my office,” he said. “Yet some of the failings we identified in 2010 were still happening in 2015, which represents a real risk to public confidence in the way police deal with missing persons investigations.” Mr Shi was first identified when officers received reports he had sat down in a Belfast office and was refusing to communicate on March 3, 2015. He was assessed at Royal Victoria Hospital and was deemed fit enough to be discharged later that evening. The following day, the PSNI found Mr Shi lying in the road, shouting and singing and returned him to hospital. He was last seen leaving the building on foot at around 6pm. He is believed to have entered the river sometime afterwards. On March 5, the force received a call for concern from Mr Shi’s family who had not been able to contact him since his first hospital admission. The call was logged as a ‘concern for safety’ issue and the handler planned to have colleagues check Mr Shi’s known address before upgrading it to a ‘missing person’ case. Dr Maguire said this decision led to an “unacceptable delay” that may have prevented the earlier recovery of Mr Shi’s body. The call was re-categorised 13 hours later but the PONI found officers did not contact his family for information or try to establish if his movements after leaving the hospital were caught on CCTV. On March 20, the PSNI upgraded the case to ‘high-risk’, which led to the recovery of CCTV footage showing his movements near the river and the discovery of his body a week later. The PONI has recommended 14 officers be disciplined over their handling of the investigation. Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said the case illustrates the scale of the challenges posed by missing person reports. He added: “New guidelines to police officers and staff were issued after this case in 2015 and based on further learning since then, PSNI and partners continue to develop the missing person policies and procedures. “This critical piece of work aims to reduce the incidence of missing person reports and improve the management of same through partnership and collaborative working. “These collaborations will focus on prevention, early intervention and risk management and in improving safeguarding in such cases.”

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