A Police Ombudsman investigation has concluded that police did all they reasonably could to find a man reported as missing before his body was recovered in Co. Derry/Londonderry in July 2014.
Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said that although there had been an “unfortunate” delay in police being able to appoint an officer to oversee an investigation, he was satisfied that they had complied with guidelines for dealing with such incidents.
Enquiries confirmed that police resources had not initially been available as officers had been deployed to deal with another incident involving a man who was threatening to take his own life.
In common with other cases in which police actions may have had a bearing on a death, the incident was referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman’s Office for independent investigation.
Police Ombudsman investigators examined relevant police records, and obtained accounts from all of the officers who had been initially involved in the search.
They established that after receiving the initial report, police had assessed the man to be at “medium risk”. Although no one was immediately available to lead an investigation, officers called the man’s phone and sent text messages but got no response.
About 20 minutes later his family called police to report that the man’s car had been found, but there was still no sign of him.
About an hour after the initial call, police contacted the family to apologise for the delay in sending anyone out. The family advised that a large number of local people were out looking for him.
When resources became available, an officer was appointed to lead the investigation and arrived at the family home just under two hours after the initial call. She spoke to the family and established that the man had recently been stressed, worried and depressed, and earlier that day had called family members to apologise to them.
Police contacted a local search and rescue team, who commenced a search, and also got in touch with his friends.
Given the family’s growing concerns and other information available to them, police later redesignated the man as being at high risk.
The PSNI’s Criminal Investigation Department then took over the investigation, a search strategy was formulated with the assistance of a search advisor, and air support was deployed.
Attempts were also made to identify the location of the man’s mobile phone, but these proved fruitless.
Shortly before 3am the following morning, a police tracker dog was used to search the area around the man’s car. Within 11 minutes the dog had helped to locate his body.
The man’s family later praised the professionalism of the officers they dealt with during the incident, paying particular praise to the police Family Liaison Officer and the investigating officer.