The Independent Office for Police Conduct has issued a series of recommendations to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) aimed at improving the level of service for people making missing person reports.
The recommendations follow IOPC’s investigation into the Met Police’s handling of the missing person investigation for Richard Christian (formerly known as Richard Okorogheye), who was first reported missing on the evening of 23 March 2021. His body was recovered from a lake in Epping Forest nearly a fortnight later on 5 April.
An inquest into Richard’s death, which concluded yesterday at Essex Coroner’s Court in Chelmsford, determined that Richard’s cause of death was consistent with drowning.
The Met Police previously said it would apologise to Richard’s family for failings that IOPC identified in their investigation into the handling of the initial reports from his mother that he was missing.
A statement from IOPC read: “Following the failures identified and the unacceptable level of service Richard’s mother received, we have issued seven learning recommendations to the MPS in relation to the handling of missing person’s reports, which have all been accepted.
“Today we publish our full learning recommendations and the MPS’ response.”
The recommendations include that:
• Officers and police staff provide accurate information to callers and clearly explain their decision making and actions, and ensure those actions are carried out.
• Callers who make missing person’s reports receive a sensitive response, and that call handlers have an understanding of any medical conditions the missing person has and the associated risks of those medical conditions.
• All officers and staff dealing with missing person reports record all relevant information and act upon it. This includes ensuring that relevant teams dealing with the missing person investigations are informed of all follow up calls and that information from professionals are fully considered.
• People who make a missing person’s report are provided with direct contact details for the team assessing and/or dealing with the missing person’s report and that the caller is provided with written information about police’s process for investigating missing people.
IOPC also recommended that the Met carry out a dip sample review of missing person reports which have been classified as “not missing” to check they are being correctly assessed, after their investigation found other instances where cases had been incorrectly assessed as being “not missing”.
IOPC regional director Steve Noonan said: “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with Richard’s family and friends following his tragic death.
“Our investigation found that officers provided an unacceptable level of service to Richard’s mother.
“She was misinformed that her concerns were being passed on to the relevant team dealing with the missing person’s report and that police were looking into this case, when the report remained closed on the police system and her information was not being passed on.
“We also found that officers who initially dealt with the missing person’s report had very little understanding of Richard’s medical condition and an officer failed to note on the file concerns raised by Richard’s GP about his welfare.
“Other issues included a worrying level of miscommunication between the MPS call handlers and the team dealing with missing person’s investigations. In Richard’s case, some call handlers were still misinformed – days into the investigation – about the overall status of the investigation.
“We are pleased that the MPS has accepted each of our recommendations. It’s hoped that, by addressing these issues and improving processes and procedures, people reporting missing loved ones won’t have the same negative and frustrating experience that Richard’s mother unfortunately received from the police.”
IOPC’s investigation found that the performance of three police officers and three call handlers fell below the standards expected and the force agreed they would undergo reflective practice to address the concerns identified.
IOPC stated: “It was our view that their actions did not meet the threshold for disciplinary action.
“Following the conclusion of the inquest, we can now confirm that our investigation also found no evidence that police may have contributed to or caused Richard’s death, as the evidence suggested that Richard was already deceased in the lake prior to police being informed of his disappearance.”
HM Coroner has determined at the inquest into Richard’s death that he died sometime in the early hours of 23 March.