Inquiry into man's death finds police failings on mother's pleas for help

Police Scotland failed to deal properly with three calls made by the mother of 51-year-old Barry Croal who was later found dead at his home, an investigation has found.

Failings were reported with Police Scotland.

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) said police did nothing despite Mr Croal’s mother phoning police three times to report concerns about her son’s safety.

Mr Croal’s mother Elizabeth Gillespie made three calls on February 20 last year, but no action was raised and officers were not sent to check on him.

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It was not until she phoned for a fourth time on February 22, more than 38 hours after her first calls, that officers were sent to Mr Croal’s home in Fallin, Stirlingshire, and found him dead. His family have asked if Mr Croal, who died from a gastrointestinal bleed, could have been saved had the police acted earlier. The Pirc investigation said his time of death could not be determined.

The findings follow controversy over the police’s call handling procedures including the fatal case of a couple who were left in a car off the M9 for three days after officers failed to respond to reports of a crash.

Ms Gillespie first contacted Police Scotland at 6:36pm on Monday 20 February last year after she had gone to his house twice that day but received no reply. She had been unable to use her key to get in because there was a key on the inside of the lock. She also wanted to know if her son had been taken in to custody.

Ms Gillespie was put through to a custody sergeant, who confirmed he was not in prison and told her she would need to hang up and phone back on the 101 phone number  and speak to a service adviser to report her son as missing.

She telephoned again three minutes later at 6:39pm on the 101 number but selected the wrong phone option and was again told by a police officer to redial 101.

No efforts were made by Police Scotland to transfer these two calls to members of staff who could assist her.

Ms Gillespie telephoned for a third time at 6:42pm and got through to a service adviser in Police Scotland’s Govan Service Centre and repeated her concerns. She again asked if her son was being held in custody at Randolphfield Police Station in Stirling. 

After taking some details, including contact information, the service adviser checked to see if Barry Croal was in custody.

Ms Gillespie interpreted this as meaning that the service adviser would call her back and she terminated the call.

The service adviser was unable to trace a telephone number for Randolphfield and on returning to the call to update Ms Gillespie , found that she had hung up. The service adviser did not call her back, and instead updated the call log with the words “Advice Given/Resolved”.

Ms Gillespie contacted Police Scotland for a fourth time at 9:06 am on Wednesday 22 February and spoke to another service adviser within Govan Service Centre. She explained she had contacted Police Scotland two days previously and had been expecting them to call her back about her son. 

This service adviser immediately raised an incident and police officers were sent out to Mr Croal’s house.

They forced entry and found his body inside. A doctor certified the cause of death as a gastrointestinal bleed, adding that an estimated time of death could not be 

Pirc Commissioner Kate Frame said: “Barry Croal’s mother experienced a variety of failures by three separate police personnel within a ten-minute period, which must have undoubtedly been very frustrating and ultimately a distressing experience for her.”

Mr Croal’s family released a statement saying: “Barry was a father, son, partner and brother who is sorely missed. It has been just over a year since his death and the circumstances surrounding it have made it difficult for us, as a family, to come to terms with.”