Criticism of police following independent investigation

POLICE have been criticised for not being more “thorough and determined” in their search for missing mental patient who was later found dead.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) made the criticisms following an investigation into Cambridgeshire Police’s handling of the case of Steve Valentine, who was reported missing from Kneesworth House hospital, Old North Road, Bassingbourn, on October 6 2008.

He was found dead at an address in Wimbledon the following day, and an inquest into his death recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

The IPCC started an investigation last year following a complaint by Mr Valentine’s mother, and released their findings on Tuesday.

In their report they say that two duty inspectors should have progressed their search and investigation more diligently.

As a result of the findings one of the officers involved will receive “management words of advice”. The other inspector has retired since the event.

Police were alerted to Mr Valentine’s disappearance at just after 6pm on October 6, and went to a local address to look for him. They returned to Kneesworth House at 3.30pm the following day to collect further information about the description of Mr Valentine and potential risks he posed to the public.

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It was not until around 5pm on Tuesday 7 October, nearly 24 hours following the first report and with Mr Valentine still missing, that Cambridgeshire Police generated and recorded relevant missing person paperwork. Soon after 9pm on October 7 the Metropolitan Police found Mr Valentine dead in Wimbledon.

Mr Valentine reached the address of a friend in Wimbledon at about 9.30pm on October 6, and had therefore left the Cambridgeshire area fairly swiftly after absconding.

However the report states that two inspectors on duty over the relevant period failed to take the steps necessary to ensure the investigation and search was being progressed, and did not move quickly enough to alert other forces such as the British Transport Police.

IPCC Commissioner, Rachel Cerfontyne, said: “Our investigation has found that Cambridgeshire Police should have been more thorough and determined in their efforts to locate Mr Valentine.

“He was a vulnerable patient without his medication and some steps to progress the investigation and ensure other police forces were made aware were not taken. Mr Valentine apparently made his way to London straight after leaving the hospital so a search by police in Cambridgeshire would not have been fruitful, but officers did not have this knowledge at the time.

“I am pleased Cambridgeshire Constabulary has actioned our findings to improve procedures in circumstances where people abscond,” she said.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire Police said: “We have taken on board the points raised by the IPCC and have already made changes to our process and procedures when dealing with those who abscond from secure premises.”