Humberside Police has settled legal cases with the loved ones of a woman who died of hypothermia in a Hull cemetery after PCSOs searched for less than 10 minutes and didn’t even step foot outside of their car to look for her.
The force was called to provide assistance to 56-year-old Jacqueline Parsons by a passer-by in October 2018 after he’d found her injured in Hull’s Western Cemetery, having fallen from her bike. The man returned home to call the police as he didn’t have a mobile with him and was worried she’d be locked in the cemetery all night.
Following his call, at approximately 4:45pm, the matter was marked as ‘urgent’ on the police log. This comes with an expectation that a patrol will arrive within 30 minutes, but it was not until around 6:20pm that two PCSOs were asked by a dispatcher to attend and assist a woman described as ‘under the influence’.
The dispatcher said that only a ‘quick area search’ was required given the time which had passed since the initial call without any further reports.
An inquest into Miss Parsons’ death subsequently heard that two Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) arrived at the cemetery at around 6:25pm and that their search consisted of them driving slowly with their car windows down to scan the land adjacent to the main cemetery road which looped around the cemetery.
Neither were trained in search techniques, and their torches were only standard police-issued torches and not powerful in comparison to dedicated lighting systems that marked police vehicles are equipped with.
At no point did either PCSO leave the police vehicle to search the grounds of the cemetery and at 6:36pm the log was closed on the basis that Miss Parsons had not been found.
The following morning she was found dead in the cemetery by a member of the public at around 9.15am – almost 17 hours after the initial report to the police had been made.
A pathologist testified that if she had been found in time after the alarm was raised, her temperature could have been raised and she could have been saved.
Legal case alleged police failure to protect right to life
Miss Parsons’ siblings and her partner pursued a claim against Humberside Police through Hudgell Solicitors alleging that failures had amounted to a breach of the force’s duty of care to protect the right to life.
Miss Parsons’ brother, Stephen, 64, said he’d been left angry at the ‘basic failings’ and had taken legal action to ensure lessons were learned.
“Still to this day I can’t come to terms with the fact that Jacqueline would still be here if the police had just done their jobs and done a proper search of the area,” he said.
“If they’d just got out of their car and walked around it is likely she’d have been found. I remember it was a cold and wet day and I have always wondered how much that influenced what happened.
“To think of her left there alone is heartbreaking. I think from the moment the call was logged, and she was described as being intoxicated, there was a dismissive approach from all involved. The alcohol levels suggest she wasn’t excessively drunk as she was only just over the legal drink-drive limit.
“The references to her being intoxicated annoyed those close to us. She would not have been drunk. She was someone who was always well dressed and had an immaculate home.
“To not get out of the car and to leave after around 10 minutes, having simply driven round and shone a couple of torches, was appalling. I had to take legal action as when things like this happen, changes need to be made to ensure it never happens again. Hopefully people who have gone missing since have been afforded a bit more commitment.”
Search ‘wholly inadequate in both approach and attitude’
Adam Biglin, of the Civil Liberties department at Hudgell Solicitors, led the legal cases and said: “This was a wholly inadequate search in terms of both approach and attitude. I think if anyone was to have a loved one go missing at any stage they’d believe a search of this nature to be insulting.
“The police failed to do their job of investigating and instead made a number of assumptions. These assumptions, and failings to follow proper procedures, proved fatal.
“The method of searching was not to the proper standard. At no point did the officers leave their police vehicle and they used torches that were not powerful enough to carry out a proper search. Nor did they make any attempt to check that Jacqueline had retuned home safe, given that they had been provided with her name and address by the man who called to report that she needed help.
“It has been heartbreaking for her loved ones to know that she was left to die alone when she could so easily have been found and saved.
“We are pleased that Humberside Police agreed to settle the civil action pursued on behalf of those who have lost Jacqueline from their lives.”
The inquest heard that the freezing temperatures overnight on Saturday, October 28, 2018, combined with alcohol in her system – which at 93mg per 100ml of blood was only just over the legal drink driving limit of 80mg per 100ml – and the injury to her ankle, were deemed as the cause of death.
Stephen added: “We all miss Jacqueline terribly. She was someone who loved her holidays and usually went abroad three times a year. She was great fun on a night out and loved a good dance, and then when Monday came she got her business head back on for the week ahead.
“Her partner Malcolm said she’d been in a bit of a health and fitness kick at the time when she was out on her bike. It’s so hard to think of how she was let down and is still difficult to accept more than three years on.”
Jacqueline spent 24 years working as a purchase ledger clerk at Van Leer before moving into new roles locally.
If your rights have been breached by the police or the state, Hudgell Solicitors can help you get justice. Our civil liberties solicitors specialise in actions against the police, holding authorities to account.
We understand that challenging the police and the state can be difficult. Hudgells has a number of experienced lawyers specialising in actions against the police who will assess your case and develop a strategy to put right the state’s failings, offering support and guidance at every stage of the process.