Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Recommendations made to Essex Police following the death of Suzanne Brown
Essex Police has been asked to make call handling improvements as a result of learning from an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into the circumstances surrounding the death of Suzanne Brown.
We have recommended Essex Police introduce a measure for control room staff to be notified when emergency calls go past their target response times, and they provide callers with an assigned grading and estimated police attendance time to urgent incidents, in line with national guidance.
Ms Brown died on 16 December 2017 in Braintree, Essex. She was killed by her partner, Jake Neate. At about 9.30pm on 15 December Mr Neate’s mother contacted Essex Police expressing concerns about her son and Ms Brown. Following a further call later the same evening to Essex Police by Mr Neate’s parents, officers arrived at the address shortly after midnight and discovered Ms Brown with serious injuries from which she later died. Mr Neate was arrested at the scene and was charged with murder. He was later deemed unfit to stand trial.
After a referral from Essex Police we began our independent investigation which examined how the force handled and graded the phone call made by Mrs Neate on 15 December 2017. We also investigated subsequent complaints received from Mr and Mrs Neate concerning the timeliness of the police response that evening, and to a call Jake Neate made earlier to Essex Police the day before the fatal incident.
We completed our investigations by June this year as part of our enquiries had to be put on hold so as not to prejudice separate proceedings against Mr Neate. On conclusion after considering the evidence, we found no case to answer for misconduct against individual call handlers or police officers involved in the response.
IOPC Regional Director Sarah Green, said:
“Our sympathies remain with the family of Suzanne Brown and all those affected by her tragic death. Our investigation found the initial call to the force control room had not been categorised correctly as a domestic incident. This meant associated processes, including risk questions being asked that may have aided the response, were not triggered.
“The call was graded as a ‘priority’, meaning a police response within 60 minutes, and not an ‘emergency’, which would have required a response within 15 minutes. The investigation found that the decision in relation to the grading based on the information known at the time by the call handler was consistent with local and national guidance.
“We identified there was no measure in place to highlight calls to control room staff which had exceeded their target response times and have asked the force to act on this learning.
“We have also recommended that Essex Police ensures its force control room staff provide callers with an associated grading and an estimated time for when officers will attend. This would bring the force in line with national guidelines.”
In this case the call was not allocated for officers to attend the Braintree address for over two hours. When the delay in allocating resources was noticed, following a further call to chase police attendance by Mr Neate’s father, it was then resourced. We found no evidence to suggest the delay was due to any intentional neglect of duties. We partly upheld the complaints made by Mr and Mrs Neate.
While we found no case to answer for misconduct, two members of staff operating in the control room have received management action over resourcing calls as their performance had not met expected standards. A further member of police staff from the force control room has also received management action in relation to asking sufficiently probing questions.
An inquest into Suzanne Brown’s death is due to be held in March 2020. We will consider publishing our investigation reports following the inquest. A Domestic Homicide Review is also being conducted.
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