Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Learning adopted by two police forces following missing person death in Lincolnshire
An investigation into the actions of the police prior to a missing teenager being found dead in Lincolnshire, has resulted in Humberside Police and Lincolnshire Police adopting our recommendations to help improve future cross-border missing persons investigations.
Liam Toner, aged 19, was reported missing to Humberside Police at around 8:50am on 16 December 2017, when he didn’t return home from an evening out with friends. It was later established that Liam had taken a taxi and was driven to Holton-Le-Clay in Lincolnshire.
Family members carried out their own search and, sadly, shortly before midnight on 16 December they found Liam’s body in a ditch close to where a taxi driver had dropped him off, around 20 miles away from his home in Ulceby.
An inquest held on Tuesday 17 September recorded a conclusion of accidental death.
During our investigation, we interviewed the officers and dispatchers involved in the incident, and reviewed the incident logs and phone calls made to the police. Investigators also obtained statements from several witnesses, including police staff and Liam’s family and friends.
We established that when Liam was reported missing to Humberside Police, the call handler graded the call as a ‘prompt concern for safety’ which means officers should attend within two hours. The supervising inspector continued to treat the log as a ‘prompt concern for safety’ until the end of his shift at 5pm as he did not believe that Liam had any significant vulnerabilities and there was no evidence of foul play. Humberside Police were also dealing with other missing person incidents on the same evening.
Lincolnshire Police were first contacted by Humberside Police shortly before 3pm on 16 December after they had received a further call about a possible sighting of Liam taking a taxi to Holton-Le-Clay in Lincolnshire at around 11:40pm the previous evening. An officer conducted a general search in his vehicle around the area where Liam was reported to have been taken to by the taxi but could not locate anyone fitting Liam’s description.
Shortly before 7pm the inspector at Humberside Police who had taken over supervision of the incident, asked that the Lincolnshire Police were made aware that this was now a ‘high risk missing person in their area’. The incident remained formally graded as a ‘concern for safety’ until just prior to Liam being found by a family friend at 11.55pm. However, we found evidence that although the log was not officially graded as ‘high risk’ a number of actions were carried out by both forces that would be in line with national policing policy for a high risk missing person investigation.
Our investigation did not identify any misconduct for any of the individual officers or staff involved in the incident, however, it was agreed that some officers and staff would benefit from learning debriefs with management.
We also made recommendations to both forces in relation to cross-border working, and as a result both forces have reviewed and shared their working practices and policies. We asked that both forces ensure there are clear methods of contact in place to share information in relation to missing persons and there is a clear process to transfer the management and supervision of missing person reports, as well as an agreed escalation process.
IOPC Regional Director Miranda Biddle said:
“Firstly, I would like to again extend my sympathy to Liam’s family and friends at what must continue to be a very difficult time for them.
“Whenever a tragic event such as this happens it is important that we carry out a thorough investigation, not only to investigate the actions of individual officers, but to see if there is anything that can be learned to help improve policing.
“I hope in this case, the learning for both forces and some of the individuals involved, will have a positive impact on the way in which cross border missing persons cases are handled in the future. I’m pleased that both forces have already introduced our recommendations into their relevant policies.
“We sincerely apologise to Liam’s family and all those affected by his death for the length of time this investigation has taken. However, I hope they can gain some peace of mind from our findings which we are able to publicise following the inquest."
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