Police ‘could have prevented death’ of St Andrews woman

Elizabeth Bowe died on September 20, 2016.
Elizabeth Bowe died on September 20, 2016.

Police could have prevented the death of a St Andrews woman who was murdered by her brother last year, a police watchdog has said.

Elizabeth Bowe (50) was assaulted in her home on September 17, 2016, and died from her injuries three days later.

Her brother, Charles Gordon, was arrested and convicted of her murder at the High Court in Glasgow in June.

According to a report by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) had police dispatched resources to investigate a call made by Elizabeth more than an hour before the assault, officers could have arrived before the attack and prevented her death.

She phoned Police Scotland on the evening of the assault, after her brother stole her mobile phone, telling them she was in a “domestic violence situation”.

A report was created in response and the incident was graded as a Grade 2 priority, which requires a police response to be sent in 15 minutes.

However, when the incident was transferred to the Police Scotland Area Control Room (ACR) at Bilston Glen, it was assessed and decided that no crime had been committed and that no police resources would be used to investigate the incident.

A member of staff attempted to contact Elizabeth and left a message, which said: “Elizabeth, this is Police Scotland here.

“It’s regarding your so called theft of a phone by your brother. Your brother is in the house.

“He has not stolen your phone. The Police are not going to attend. And also the 999 calls are for emergencies only, certainly not for this type of incident.”

Charles phoned Police Scotland just over an hour later, stating that he had killed his sister.

Police were sent to the home and found Elizabeth with serious injuries.

The commissioner said: “Had Police Scotland timeously dispatched resources in accordance with their call priority system following Elizabeth Bowe’s 999 call 1 hour and 24 minutes earlier, offices may have arrived at her home prior to her receiving the injuries from which she died and thereby prevented her death.

“I have made a number of recommendations to the Chief Constable to ensure the priority calls from vulnerable persons such as Elizabeth Bow are responded to appropriately.”

It was recommended that Police Scotland take action to ensure calls for assistance from known vulnerable persons receive an appropriate priority response and that staff at its ACR at Bilston Glen receive advice, training and guidance on the identification, management and prioritisation of calls from vulnerable people.

In response to the report, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson said: “My thoughts and sympathies are with Elizabeth Bowe’s family and friends.

“Police Scotland have accepted the findings of the PIRC report and highlighted an number of improvements being made following this incident, including risk and vulnerability training to over 800 staff.

“I expect them to continue to ensure that the recommendations are implemented and for the Scottish Police Authority to closely monitor progress.

“Police call handlers play a critical role in supporting and safeguarding members of the public and HMICS recognised the significant progress made in this area when it last reported on call handling in January of this year.”

ACC Nelson Telfer, service and protection, said: “Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Elizabeth Bowe and all those affected by her death.

“Police Scotland accept the findings of the PIRC report and continue to ensure that the recommendations are implemented. In addition, since the incident in September 2016, Police Scotland have given risk and vulnerability training to over 800 staff, which assists in identifying and assessing risk at the first point of contact as well as capturing the right and relevant information.

“Police Scotland receives in excess of tens of thousands of calls every year regarding vulnerable persons and further guidance has been given to call handlers and Area Control Room staff with regards to the downgrading and closure of incidents. A revised process is now in place for incidents where vulnerability is identified which ensures closer supervisory scrutiny both within C3 and within Local Policing Divisions.”