Independent Police Complaints Commission
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Improvements made to police search and rescue policies following IPCC investigation

Improvements to water-based search and rescue policies have been recommended following the IPCC’s investigation into the actions of Thames Valley Police (TVP) during the disappearance of Ellis Downes.

Ellis drowned in the River Thames in May 2016 after going swimming. After he was reported missing, a joint search and rescue operation then took place between TVP and Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (OFRS).

The IPCC examined the actions TVP officers took over a three day ‘rescue and recovery’ period and their interaction with Ellis’s family and friends following complaints.

The IPCC identified that there was a delay in allowing a civilian dive team access to the river to recover Ellis’s body due to a misunderstanding as to whether they had the correct authorisation.

The IPCC has therefore recommended TVP review the accreditation and use of civilian diving teams to support police searches. This will prevent any confusion arising future. The report has also been shared with the National Police Chief’s Council.

TVP will be reviewing its policies around rescue and recovery phases of searches and the actions that should be taken during these periods. TVP will also look at the circumstances when a dive team will be considered.

TVP will also implement improved bereavement training for frontline officers after complaints from the Downes family about how they were dealt with by CID officers.

The National Police Chief’s Council has advised that guidance exists on securing mutual aid from non-police resources but the council will review whether greater awareness should be promoted of this guidance.

Three officers were found to have a case to answer for misconduct for their incivility and lack of professionalism during their dealings with Ellis’s family in the immediate aftermath of his disappearance. TVP agreed with this finding and the officers will face misconduct meetings in due course.

IPCC Associate Commissioner Guido Liguori said:

“This was a tragic accident that has seen a family devastated by Ellis’s death and my thoughts are with them and Ellis’s friends.

“While we found the actions of those officers directing the search to be in line with police policies, we identified changes that could be made to improve how civilian dive teams are used to assist the police in such circumstances.”

The IPCC investigation report will be published following the outcome of the misconduct meetings.


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