Manchester police back under spotlight, after ignoring calls about dead man


A police force has been criticised by an independent watchdog for ignoring two phone calls expressing serious concerns about the health of a disabled man, who was later found dead.

It is just the latest in a series of concerns over how Greater Manchester Police (GMP) responds to disability-related incidents.

Philip Dorsett, a wheelchair-user, was found dead in a carpark near his home in Great Lever, Bolton, at about 9.20am on 16 December 2010.

But despite receiving calls at 7.14am and 8.59am from a neighbour who had spoken to Dorsett but received no response, no police officer attended to check on him.

Dorsett was known to police because of frequent calls made about his welfare, but carried a sign on his mobility scooter saying “do not call the emergency services I’m OK”.

Minutes after the second call, police received a call from the ambulance service, saying they were responding to a report that Dorsett had been found dead in a carpark.

As a result of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) probe, a GMP police constable and two members of call-handling staff have received “management action”, although the IPCC said there was “no evidence to suggest Mr Dorsett might have lived with a quicker response”.

IPCC commissioner Naseem Malik said: “It is evident that due to the past history of calls about Mr Dorsett the police officers and staff involved made assumptions on this occasion. This was clearly a mistake.

“Police officers and staff should treat each call they receive on its own merits. This call clearly needed an urgent response.”

Peter Fahy, GMP’s chief constable, said: “We are very clear that once the call was made to us we should have dealt with it properly and sent an officer.”

But it is not the first case in which GMP has been criticised for its attitude towards disabled people and disability-related incidents.

In March, the IPCC heavily criticised GMP for its “total failure” to treat the “years of torment” experienced by David Askew at the hands of local youths as disability hate crime.

Askew, who had learning difficulties, collapsed and died from “natural causes” in March 2010 soon after police received reports that youths had again been harassing him outside his home in Hattersley, on the edge of Manchester.

Between 2004 and 2010, Askew and his family – his mother and brother are also disabled – reported 88 incidents of targeted harassment and hostility, threats and abuse.

There were also questions raised last year about whether GMP failed to investigate a brutal and sustained attack by three teenagers on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome as a potential disability hate crime. The attack lasted three days.

Garry Shewan, an assistant chief constable with GMP, said: “These cases and others like them demonstrate how police have a huge responsibility for dealing with people who are identified to us as being vulnerable through age, infirmity or mental confusion.”

He said the force had made “significant improvements” to the way it deals with disability hate crime since the death of David Askew, and had “learned the lessons from that case and rolled out training and awareness packages to all officers, as well as changing the ways we record disability hate crime”.

He said: “Officers can now quickly identify when an incident can be dealt with under disability hate crime legislation so that it can be prosecuted as such and offenders are given lengthier sentences.”

Shewan said GMP was also working with disabled people, disability organisations and “partner agencies” to “tackle the causes of disability-related crime and harassment head-on”.

2 November 2011