Leader comment: Elizabeth Bowe’s murder is further evidence that Police Scotland has a problem

Charles Gordon was jailed for murdering his sister Elizabeth Bowe in St Andrews
Charles Gordon was jailed for murdering his sister Elizabeth Bowe in St Andrews
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But for a fateful decision by police call handlers to downgrade a plea for help from a vulnerable woman who had been the victim of domestic violence, Elizabeth Bowe might still be alive.

That is the bleak conclusion of an investigation by a police watchdog.

For the family of the 50-year-old, who was murdered by her brother, this must be hard to take. The pain of losing a loved one to murder can only be imagined by those who have not experienced it. Knowing her death might have been prevented will only add to their grief.

For Police Scotland, it is, once again, a time to reflect on whether they have the correct systems in place to deal with such situations.

Humans will always make mistakes, particularly in high-pressure environments, but systems can be designed to minimise them. Are Scotland’s senior officers convinced no more can be done?

Ms Bowe’s death raises fundamental questions about the very nature of Police Scotland. Does it have enough officers to deal with the volume of calls? Is the force stretched so thin that call handlers are having to make tough choices? Are there enough call handlers to deal with the volume of calls?

Given the number of recent fatal cases in which officers were not sent to investigate, it would appear that there has been a problem.

One of the most shocking was the M9 car crash that killed John Yuill and Lamara Bell in 2015. It took police three days to find the car after a call from a member of the public. Ms Bell was still alive when officers arrived but died later in hospital. In March last year, Andrew Bow, who had Asperger’s syndrome, was found dead in his Edinburgh flat a week after neighbours called police to voice their concerns. Earlier that month police officers had found him in a confused and paranoid state and taken him to hospital, before returning Mr Bow to his flat.

And, in February this year, a 51-year-old man’s body was found at a house in Fallin, near Stirling, by officers who went to the address two days after a call to police by his family.

If more cases like these are to be prevented, Police Scotland has to improve its performance. If it is unable to, it must not hesitate to explain to the Scottish Government why not and lay out what it needs to address the situation. If the problem is allowed to continue, public faith in the police will be further undermined.