Police ‘failed’ in search for elderly man found dead in Inverness

Pirc Commissioner Kate Frame
Pirc Commissioner Kate Frame
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A watchdog has found police officers failed to make diligent inquiries to trace a 72-year-old man who made a 999 call for an ambulance before being found dead at his home.

The body of Albert Insch was discovered by his carer at supported accommodation in Inverness on the morning of 27 October 2016 – the day after he made a call for help.

A report published by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) said the emergency call was answered by a BT operator who could not make out what was being said.

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A recording of the call was passed to Police Scotland’s area control room (ACR) where staff also struggled to understand the message.

As part of their investigation into the handling of the incident, Pirc investigators listened to the call and believe Mr Insch said: “Hi, ambulance please, mate.”

Police managed to identify Mr Insch’s mobile number from previous 999 calls, but had wrongly recorded his flat number on one of those occasions.

As a result, two officers went to the wrong flat where they were told the occupant was a woman who was in hospital.

An employee at the accommodation said he took the officers to the flat occupied by Mr Insch, but the officers dispute this.

The Pirc report said the officers were at the supported accommodation for eight minutes before leaving without tracing Mr Insch. ACR staff meanwhile continued to try to contact Mr Insch by telephone, without success.

The call was closed that evening after the officers confirmed to control room staff the flat was occupied by a woman, who was in hospital at that time. The body of Mr Insch was found in his home the following morning by his carer.

The Pirc, Kate Frame, said: “This is a tragic case where an elderly man endeavoured to seek emergency assistance, but due to a previous error by ACR staff in accurately recording his address and a failure by the two officers who attended to establish whether Mr Insch was safe and well, he did not receive that assistance.

“I have recommended that Police Scotland reinforce to operational officers and ACR staff the need to diligently carry out enquiries when a 999 call ends unexpectedly.

“Furthermore, I have recommended that Police Scotland ensures that, especially in cases involving elderly people, officers should not leave an incident before they have established whether the person is safe and well.”

In a statement issued through Pirc, Mr Insch’s family said: “We have no further comment to make other than to thank the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner’s team for their support and professionalism surrounding the circumstances in the death or our father and husband.”

Chief Superintendent George Macdonald, divisional commander for Highland and Islands Division, said: “We fully accept the findings of the Pirc investigation following the death of Albert Insch in Inverness, during October 2016. This type of call is one which we face on a regular basis and it is apparent that on this occasion we have not displayed the level of professional curiosity I would expect.

“I have met personally with Mr Insch’s family to discuss the findings and I have apologised to them that our enquiries to trace their father’s address and adequately ascertain his wellbeing did not go far enough.

“During my time with the Insch family it was also apparent that the level of communication and engagement with Police Scotland during this enquiry and subsequent Pirc investigation had significant room for improvement.”

He added: “We have been working with the family to learn lessons to improve our communication which are being implemented and will support others in the future, should the need arise and regardless of the nature of the incident being reviewed.

“I am incredibly appreciative of the family’s support given the tragic circumstances they have had to deal with.”