Prompt Police Response Could Have Prevented Woman's Murder - Watchdog
7 November 2017, 15:06
Police may have prevented a woman's murder by her brother if they had responded to her 999 call almost 90 minutes before she was found injured, investigators have found.
Elizabeth Bowe, 50, was found seriously hurt at her home in St Andrews, Fife, on September 17 2016 and later died.
She had phoned police at around 8pm that evening using her brother Charles Gordon's mobile telephone, to report that he had stolen her mobile and was refusing to return it to her, the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (Pirc) report found.
She told the police call centre that she was a vulnerable person and was in a "domestic violence situation".
The call was initially categorised as a Grade 2 priority, requiring a police response to be sent within 15 minutes, however when it was transferred to Police Scotland's Area Control Room (ACR) at Bilston Glen it was downgraded by a controller who decided police did not need to attend.
At 8.12pm he left a voicemail message on her brother's mobile telephone stating: "Your brother is in the house. He has not stolen your phone. The Police are not going to attend. And also the 999 calls are for emergencies only, certainly not for this type of incident."
At around 9:24pm that evening, Gordon telephoned police on 999 to say that he had killed his sister.
Police who immediately went to the property found Ms Bowe seriously injured and she died on September 20.
Gordon, 52, was jailed for life in July at the High Court in Glasgow after being found guilty of strangling his sister.
Pirc found a number of failings in the way police dealt with the incident.
Commissioner Kate Frame said: "Had Police Scotland timeously dispatched resources in accordance with their call priority system following Elizabeth Bowe's 999 call 1 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 has made a number of recommendations to the Chief Constable to ensure that priority calls from vulnerable people are responded to appropriately.
Pirc found that the communications controller at Bilston Glen did not check any other police database in respect of Ms Bowe or her vulnerabilities.
The Bilston Glen centre was criticised following the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell in July 2015. The couple lay undiscovered for days after a crash on the M9 near Stirling despite a sighting of their wrecked car being reported to the control room.
A statement on behalf of Ms Bowe's family said: "The past year has put a terrible strain on the family and we now just want to move on with our lives.
"The circumstances of the death of Elizabeth, who was a caring mother and grandmother, was a shock to us all and we appreciate the support we have received, but would now wish our privacy to be respected."
Assistant Chief Constable Nelson Telfer said: "Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Elizabeth Bowe and all those affected by her death.
"Police Scotland accept the findings of the Pirc report and continue to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.
"In addition, since the incident in September 2016, Police Scotland have given risk and vulnerability training to over 800 staff, which assists in identifying and assessing risk at the first point of contact as well as capturing the right and relevant information.
"Police Scotland receives in excess of 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.
"A revised process is now in place for incidents where vulnerability is identified which ensures closer supervisory scrutiny both within Contact Command and Control (C3) and within Local Policing Divisions."
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson MSP said: "My thoughts and sympathies are with Elizabeth Bowe's family and friends.
"Police Scotland have accepted the findings of the Pirc report and highlighted a number of improvements being made following this incident, including risk and vulnerability training to over 800 staff.
"I expect them to continue to ensure that the recommendations are implemented and for the Scottish Police Authority to closely monitor progress.
"Police call handlers play a critical role in supporting and safeguarding members of the public and HMICS recognised the significant progress made in this area when it last reported on call handling in January of this year."
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: "This is a terrible tragedy.
"Bilston Glen was at the centre of the response to the M9 incident. Officers, staff and the public will be horrified to learn that its processes have so tragically failed once again.
"The public will expect an urgent response from Police Scotland. Its procedures must be strengthened so that all decisions are informed and make use of the range of information available to the national force."