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Met apologises to family after IOPC finds fault in MISPER inquiry

Report recommends reflective practice for six police and staff but concludes race did not play a part

The Met has apologised to the family of Richard Okorogheye for a ‘substandard level of service’ after he was reported missing.

The apology, which has been rejected by the family through their lawyers, followed an IOPC investigation which found a number of faults with the way the MISPER investigation was handled but concluded that none of the police or staff involved should face action for misconduct.

Richard was first reported missing by his mother on 23 March last year and his body was recovered from a lake in Epping Forest nearly a fortnight later, on 5 April.

The IOPC  investigated complaints from Mr Okorogheye’s mother Evidence Joel about how she was treated during the calls, including one in which she was told words to the effect of: “If you can’t find your son, how do you expect us to?” 

She told the IOPC she believed racism underpinned some of the treatment she received and that police were too slow to classify Richard as missing.

The IOPC said that police failed to correctly record Richard’s medical condition after they were told he had sickle cell anaemia, and that this and other information should have been passed on sooner to the relevant team.

The investigations also found that:

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said:  “In our view, one officer did make a comment which could be considered unprofessional, and which Ms Joel perceived as racist, at a time when she was clearly distressed. After carefully examining the evidence, we found the officer handled this call badly but could not conclude the inappropriate comment was influenced by any bias regarding Richard’s ethnicity. This does not in any way undermine Ms Joel’s experience of this call and perception of racial discrimination.       

“While officers are not expected to have a specific level of medical knowledge, it does make it vital that concerns raised by family members or medical professionals are given proper consideration, which did not happen in Richard’s case.

"Our investigation explored whether the police response overall may have been affected by any racial bias. Failings were identified, particularly in the initial recording and risk assessment, but the evidence did not indicate that any delay in upgrading Richard’s risk level was due to his or Ms Joel’s race or that enquiries were progressed less timely than in other similar missing person cases we compared it with."  

Responding to the IOPC report on behalf of the Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Bas Javid said: "Our thoughts remain with Richard's family and I would like to apologise for the distress caused by the substandard level of service, as highlighted by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

"It is clear the service we provided in the days following Richard's disappearance was not at a level the public would expect of us, which included Richard not being classified as a missing person; his risk not being upgraded sooner; the communications with his mother not being as informative and precise as they could have been and, regrettably, an insensitive and inappropriate comment made by one of our officers. We will address these issues directly with the officers and staff involved through additional enhanced training.

"We recognise how worrying it must be to not know where a loved one is, and we are challenging ourselves to do better at responding when someone does report a missing person. To help us improve we are working with partners, such as the charity Missing People, to understand and learn from the experiences of different communities across London. We are also introducing a new way to assess all the missing person reports we receive every day.”

The IOPC investigation found six Met employees, three officers and three members of police staff, should receive reflective practice, which will be delivered by way of enhanced training for those officers and staff.

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