Errors in call handling before man found dead

9 May 2018, 15:30

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Three calls made to police by a concerned mother two days before her son's body was found were not handled correctly, a watchdog has found.

The mother of Barry Croal, 51, rang police three times on February 20 2017 amid concern for his safety, having not seen him for two days or been able to unlock his front door.

However no police officers were sent to investigate, a Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) report found.

It was not until she phoned a fourth time on February 22 - more than 38 hours after her initial calls - that officers were sent to Mr Croal's home in Fallin, Stirlingshire, and found him dead.

A doctor certified the cause of death as a gastrointestinal bleed but could not give an estimated time of death, beyond saying that Mr Croal had been dead for more than two hours before she arrived.

The report could not determine whether Mr Croal's life could have been saved if the matter had been handled effectively.

Pirc identified errors in Police Scotland's call handling and management.

Commissioner Kate Frame said: "Despite Barry Croal's mother's repeated efforts on 20 February 2017, in three calls to Police Scotland, to communicate her concerns about her son's safety she received little assistance in resolving those concerns until she phoned Police Scotland for a fourth time, two days later.

"In her earlier calls, she made it clear to both police officers and a member of civilian staff that nobody had seen her son for a number of days and that she had been unable to get into his house because it appeared that the door had been locked with keys from the inside.

"Barry Croal's mother experienced a variety of failures by three separate police personnel within a ten-minute period, which must have undoubtedly been very frustrating and ultimately a distressing experience for her."

In her first two calls to 101 on February 20, Mr Croal's mother spoke to custody enquiries, who told her to redial on 101 for a service adviser to report her son as a missing person.

She did so and gave her details and then hung up, expecting someone to ring her back, which did not happen.

A statement issued on behalf of Mr Croal's family said: "Barry was a father, son, partner and brother who is sorely missed.

"It has been just over a year since his death and the circumstances surrounding it have made it difficult for us, as a family, to come to terms with. "

Pirc recommended that police should make improvements to call handling.

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson said: "Even after the passage of time, our thoughts remain with Barry's family and friends.

"We note the recommendations within the Pirc report and acknowledge the fact that there were some shortcomings in relation to the Police Scotland response to enquiries to establish his wellbeing. We would like to offer our sincere apologies to Barry's family and friends for that.

"We recognised at an early stage these shortcomings and promptly made significant changes and improvements to manage custody enquiries both within and between Criminal Justice Services (Custody) and C3 Divisions. Staff have also received additional briefing to recognise risk and vulnerability at the first point of contact.

"These improvements have addressed the three recommendations made by Pirc and since the inception of this enquiry we have worked with Pirc to address these findings to further improve our call handling and custody management."