The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) has found a number of failings and made recommendations in the way police dealt with a vulnerable 50-year-old woman before she was murdered by her brother.

Elizabeth Bowe was known to Police Scotland and had been extensively recorded on their systems as a vulnerable person who had been the subject of domestic abuse. This included allegations that she had been assaulted by her brother Charles Gordon.

Ms Bowe was found seriously injured at her home in St Andrews on 17 September 2016, almost an hour and a half after she had phoned police on the 999 emergency number.

Her injuries were so severe that she died on 20 September 2016 and the matter was referred to the PIRC by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The PIRC investigation focused on Police Scotland’s response to the telephone calls made by and in relation to, Ms Bowe.

Police Scotland separately investigated Ms Bowe’s murder.

In her report to the COPFS, the Commissioner concluded that Ms Bowe’s death may have been prevented if police had attended earlier in response to her call before she was attacked.

Following agreement with the COPFS, Commissioner Kate Frame is now able to publish a summary of her findings.

She 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, officers may have arrived at her home prior to her receiving the injuries from which she died and thereby prevented her death."

A statement on behalf of the family of Elizabeth Bowe said:

"The past year has put a terrible strain on the family and we now just want to move on with our lives. The circumstances of the death of Elizabeth, who was a caring mother and grandmother, was a shock to us all and we appreciate the support we have received, but would now wish our privacy to be respected.

"The PIRC report has made a number of recommendations on how Police Scotland should deal with calls from vulnerable people. We hope these will be taken forward so that changes are made to avoid something similar happening again."

(Notes to Editors: The extended family of Elizabeth Bowe have asked the PIRC to request that media outlets do not make attempts to contact them at this time)

In undertaking this investigation, PIRC investigators interviewed members of the public, police officers and staff. They also examined police statements, CCTV evidence, telephone calls and police radio transmissions and scrutinised police files, including the Vulnerable Person Database, command and control logs, standard operating procedures and policies and other evidence gathered by police.

The Commissioner found that about 8pm on 17 September, Elizabeth Bowe telephoned Police Scotland using her brother’s mobile phone to report that her brother had stolen her mobile phone. She informed the service advisor that she was a vulnerable person, who was in a "domestic violence situation" and required her telephone to "call for help" if she needed it.

The service advisor created a police incident report and attached a ‘marker’ - information about a known address - which highlighted that Ms Bowe had been the victim of domestic violence by her estranged partner. They told Ms Bowe that police officers would attend and categorised the call as a Grade 2 priority – a call requiring an urgent police response within 15 minutes.

The incident was then transferred to the Police Scotland Area Control Room (ACR) at Bilston Glen where it was assessed by a Communications Controller who considered that a crime had not been committed and there was no requirement to send police resources to deal with the incident.

The Commissioner’s report found that at 8.12pm the Controller then attempted to contact Ms Bowe via her brother’s mobile phone and on receiving no reply, left a voicemail message stating that as her brother was in the house he had not stolen her phone and that the police would not be attending. The controller further advised that the 999 number should only be used for emergencies.

Almost an hour and a half later, Ms Bowe’s brother telephoned 999 to report that he had killed his sister and officers were immediately sent to the address. On arrival, they discovered Ms Bowe with serious injuries.

In her report, the Commissioner identified that police had previously taken steps to ensure Ms Bowe’s safety, by installing an alarm in her home, carrying out vulnerability assessments and taking part in multi-agency response meetings.

She also found that police systems, including those used by ACR staff, contained a "warning marker" for Ms Bowe’s address highlighting her vulnerabilities.

However, the Commissioner identified a number of failings in the police response to Ms Bowe’s 999 call.

She found that the service advisor who dealt with the initial call from Ms Bowe failed to record all relevant and appropriate information, such as the fact she was a vulnerable adult, was in a violent domestic relationship and required her mobile telephone to report any matters relating to her personal safety. The Commissioner acknowledged that the service advisor correctly graded the call as requiring an urgent response within 15 minutes but that when the call was passed to the Communications Controller, he failed to properly assess the incident and dispatch resources to investigate Ms Bowe’s report of a crime.

He decided, contrary to the Scottish Crime Recording Standard, that no crime had occurred and decided instead to downgrade the call priority and close the incident, without obtaining the necessary permission from a supervisor and failed to send officers to respond to the report of theft. This was contrary to Police Scotland’s Command and Control standard operating procedure.

The Commissioner added: "I have made a number of recommendations to the Chief Constable to ensure that priority calls from vulnerable persons such as Elizabeth Bowe are responded to appropriately."

The Commissioner recommended that:

  • Police Scotland take action to ensure that calls for assistance from known vulnerable people receive an appropriate response.
  • Police Scotland ensure that staff within its Area Control Room at Bilston Glen receive appropriate advice, training and guidance on the identification, management and prioritisation of calls from vulnerable people, including recording relevant information and undertaking necessary checks to ensure that the failures identified in the death of Elizabeth Bowe do not happen again.

Notes to Editors:

On 19 September 2016, prior to the deceased’s death, Police Scotland referred the serious injury of the deceased to the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner ("PIRC") in terms of the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 as amended by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Investigations Procedure, Serious Incidents and Specified Weapons) Regulations 2013.

On 20 September 2016, following the deceased’s death, the PIRC was instructed by the Lord Advocate, in terms of Section 33A(b)(ii) of the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 as amended, to investigate.


Media contact for further information:

Michael Tait, Head of Communications - 01698 542920 or 07760 990897

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