The death of a high-security psychiatric patient reported missing from a Bradford hospital while left alone on a cigarette break, could not have been prevented by police responding to a missing person report, a watchdog has found.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation examined West Yorkshire Police’s response to Peter Barnes’s disppearance after Cygnet Hospital in Wyke contacted them on October 13, 2011, and assessed him as a low-risk missing person.
The actions taken by West Yorkshire Police to locate Mr Barnes included asking Lincolnshire Police to check a number of addresses connected to him, circulating a photograph and description, and issuing a nationwide alert to other police forces.
Searches of the hospital grounds were also carried out by hospital staff and West Yorkshire Police officers, but it was one week later that Mr Barnes’s body was eventually discovered in bushes in the hospital grounds close to its car park.
A post-mortem examination had found he still had contents from his last meal in his stomach which meant he had died just a few hours after vanishing.
At an inquest in November last year a jury ruled that Mr Barnes took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.
Before his discovery, Mr Barnes’s mother Karen and other family members and friends had travelled from their home in Lincoln to carry out their own searches for him.
After his death, Mrs Barnes told the Telegraph & Argus: “We feel the police did not handle this properly at the start. We have already been told by the Coroner that Peter died within 30 minutes of eating his final meal so he could have been found sooner. He had not been making it difficult by hiding from anyone.”
The IPCC investigation found there was no case to answer for any officer and there was no evidence to suggest that had the police acted differently in any way, the death of Mr Barnes could have been prevented.
The investigation, which concluded in March 2012, did, however, reveal a number of areas of learning for individuals and West Yorkshire Police.
These included a recommendation that West Yorkshire Police highlight to its duty inspectors the importance and value of maintaining regular contact with the family of a missing person, and to consider developing a clear protocol to ensure provisions are in place if missing person co-ordinators are unavailable.
West Yorkshire Police has told the IPCC that since Mr Barnes’s death the force has increased the level of intrusive management applied to each missing person’s case at daily meetings. A guidance document has also been prepared to inform and assist supervisors in dealing with reports of missing persons.
Cindy Butts, the IPCC Commissioner for West Yorkshire, said: “While our investigation did not find that any actions of West Yorkshire Police officers or staff contributed to Mr Barnes’s death, we have made a number of recommendations to the force so that its guidance for dealing with reports of missing persons can be improved.”