The mother of a man found dead in a park lake hours after a police officer conducted just a ‘four minute’ search for him has criticised the PC after she told an inquest she’d act no differently if faced with the same circumstances again.
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation, published today, found evidence of errors in the actions of PC Helen Hardie, of North Yorkshire Police, when called out to search for missing Gavin Egan in the early hours of February 24 last year.
Police had been alerted to the fact Mr Egan’s life was possibly in danger by a dog walker who made an emergency call after pulling him alive from the lake in Peasholm Park, Scarborough, at around 4am.
The caller said he’d then lost Mr Egan, 34, after leaving the scene briefly to access a phone and call the emergency services. The caller was concerned for Mr Egan’s welfare.
The temperature was -4 degrees centigrade at the time Mr Egan was reported missing, but PC Hardie, a trained search police officer, conducted just a ‘quick scan’ of the area, lasting just a matter of minutes, before leaving the scene.
Mr Egan’s dead body was discovered in the lake again hours later in daylight.
IPCC investigation concludes PC ‘fell short of the standard expected’
The IPCC investigation, for which the findings have today been published, found PC Hardie searched for just four minutes before leaving the area, she did not seek assistance from colleagues and the incident log was closed soon after.
IPCC Associate Commissioner Tom Milsom said the actions of PC Hardie ‘fell short of the standard expected’, adding that ‘greater consideration should have been given to corroborate the information given to the police and a more effective search should have been undertaken’.
PC Hardie had ‘questioned the need for her attendance’ when instructed to search the park by her dispatcher at the force at 4.05am, saying she would have ‘a quick look round’.
She admitted to being unbelieving of the account which had been provided by the man making the emergency call. As a result of her dismissive nature when speaking in radio transmissions, two further officers, who had initially offered to assist, decided not to attend at the park.
PC Hardie was also found to have relied on incorrect information from the call log that Mr Egan had fled the area, despite a paramedic’s view that he would be incapable of such action because of freezing temperatures. No further enquiries were made with the dog-walker either.
Actions amounted to ‘misconduct’ – yet officer claims she’d not change approach
During an internal police force hearing last November, PC Hardie’s actions were found to have amounted to misconduct and she was issued with a written warning for ‘failing to undertake an effective search of the lake’.
At the time, the force also said that the ‘issues and performance of PC Hardie should be addressed by the way of a development plan.”
However, when giving evidence at the rescheduled inquest into Mr Egan’s death earlier this week, PC Hardie claimed she wouldn’t do anything differently if presented with the same scenario again.
It was a comment which angered Mr Egan’s mother, Lesley Shields, and has led to her lawyer, civil liberties specialist Andrew Petherbridge, of Hudgell Solicitors, writing to the force asking the Chief Constable to explain the force’s position.
“We were astonished to hear PC Hardie tell the Coroner that if she were to be presented with the same circumstances again she would in fact do nothing different. This comment has caused a great deal of distress to Mr Egan’s family,” said Mr Petherbridge.
“Clearly, a suitable development plan has not been addressed with PC Hardie and she appears to have also failed to recognise her failures and learn from these.
“We’ve therefore written to the force asking for an explanation in respect of PC Hardie’s evidence to the Coroner and also explain why nothing appears to have been learned from Mr Egan’s tragic death.”
Mother feels officer ‘showed no remorse at all’
Mrs Shields added: “Given all that has happened, from her complete lack of commitment on the night to finding Gavin, to being criticised by the IPCC and then reprimanded and found guilty of misconduct by her own force, I found it appalling that PC Hardie could say such a thing. She twice said she’d not do anything differently when questioned.
“She has showed no remorse at all in my view and it has left me fuming at the way we have been treated since Gavin’s death. She’s obviously not learned any lessons either, she’s not willing to as she was bold enough to stand there in front of us and effectively say she’d done nothing wrong.
“As far as I am concerned the whole incident was a total face from start to finish. I shall live the rest of my life with the knowledge that if the police had done their duty my son could still be alive today.”
Mrs Shields said she felt let down by North Yorkshire Police, not only by the actions of officers on the night itself, but also ever since her son died.
“I have been left very angry and disappointed at the way we have been treated, not only with regard to what happened on the night, but ever since and to this date by North Yorkshire Police,” she said.
“Firstly, I only found out that Gavin had died at 4pm the following day, not by the police, but by somebody else calling on the phone to offer me their condolences. It wasn’t until more than 28 hours after his body was discovered that I was finally visited by the police.
“It was also three days before the police told me that Gavin had actually been pulled from the lake earlier that night. Then, as a family we prepared for the inquest last November, only to be told the day before that PC Hardie would not be attending.
“Finally we have the inquest and we are made to feel like there is no remorse at all.”
Coroner Michael Oakley gave narrative verdict and concluded that even with the use of a police helicopter and an underwater search team, it was unlikely that they would have recovered Mr Egan alive.
Legal case claims breach of Human Rights and Duty of Care
Mr Petherbridge says the findings of the force against PC Hardie, and those of the IPCC investigation, support its legal claim for a breach of Duty of Care and a possible breach of the Human Rights Act.
“There was a clear failure to carry out a thorough and appropriate search of the grounds and lake in Peasholm Park, and we firmly believe that it amounted to a breach of Gavin’s Human Rights, denying him his right to life by failing to do all possible to protect him,” he said.
“No matter how many times the facts of this case are reviewed and considered, there can be no other conclusion drawn other than not enough was done to try and find Gavin that night. If anything, the bare minimum was done, and that is certainly not something Gavin’s family should be willing to accept.”
At the first inquest hearing in November last year, forensic pathologist Peter Nigel Cooper found the cause of Mr Egan’s death to be “consistent with drowning.” He added that bruises found on Mr Egan’s arm were consistent with him having being “helped from the lake”.
The IPPC report concluded that PC Hardie’s search of the park, which spans 14 hectares in total, lasted just four minutes and fourteen seconds. She told the IPCC she felt that was ‘long enough’ to gain ‘sufficient information to pass back to the Force Control Room’.
Mrs Shields said her son had lived a difficult life in which he had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, had suffered from depression, and overcome a brain aneurysm.
More than 300 people paid tribute to him on a Facebook memorial page set up after his death, with friends and family describing him as a ‘caring person’ with a ‘heart of gold’.
Mrs Shields said her son had been happy and feeling positive when she last saw him days before his death, making plans to move into a new home in Scarborough.