A police force is to be investigated over its failure to respond to a telephone call in which concerns were expressed about the health of a disabled man, who was found dead just two hours later.
It is the third time in a year that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has had to launch an investigation into how Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has responded to disability-related incidents.
One leading disabled activist said it raises fresh, serious concerns over how the force treats disabled people.
In the latest incident, Philip Dorsett, a wheelchair-user, was found dead by a relative at about 9.20am on 16 December 2010.
More than two hours earlier, a neighbour had called police expressing concerns about his welfare, after seeing him in a carpark near his home in Great Lever, Bolton.
An IPCC spokesman said Dorsett had been ill with a chest infection and is believed to have left his home for some fresh air – despite the near-freezing conditions – and to avoid disturbing his family with his coughing.
The IPCC spokesman said GMP failed to take any action in response to the phone call, or to pass the information to the ambulance service.
He said police failed to respond until receiving a call more than two hours later saying Dorsett had died. The death is not being treated as suspicious.
Naseem Malik, an IPCC commissioner, said: “It is unclear whether Mr Dorsett was already dead when the call was made to GMP, but it is important that we independently examine how the neighbour’s call was handled and the decision-making that led to there being no police response.”
GMP is already awaiting the result of two other IPCC investigations concerning serious incidents involving disabled people.
The IPCC is nearing the end of its probe into how the force dealt with the family of David Askew, a disabled man who was subjected to years of harassment and hostility from local youths, before collapsing and dying from “natural causes” shortly after yet another incident. GMP was also heavily criticised for not treating the incident as a potential disability hate crime.
There were also questions raised about whether the force failed to investigate a brutal and sustained attack on a young man with Asperger’s syndrome as a potential disability hate crime. The three teenagers recorded the attack – which lasted three days – on a mobile phone.
And the IPCC is preparing to publish a report into an incident in which a GMP officer used a 50,000 volt “Taser” stun-gun on a man who was recovering from an epileptic seizure.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “I have had deep concerns about the way Manchester police have been caught short so often. Their attitude to disability hate crime is woefully lacking.”
He said the force’s attitude towards safeguarding, hate crime and supporting disabled people in vulnerable situations was “pretty bad”.
He added: “They are just not doing the job and there is no question that they are not doing the job, otherwise these incidents would not be happening.”
GMP said it could not comment on the three IPCC cases until the commission had finished its investigations.
But assistant chief constable Garry Shewan said: “We have conducted a number of internal reviews around how we handle the issue of disability hate crime, and we are currently developing a training package so that officers can 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.”
He said the force was also “working hard to address the causes of disability-related harassment by working with disabled people, disability organisations and partner agencies to raise awareness of this very serious issue”.
And he said GMP had introduced a new system to ensure neighbourhood officers “can identity anyone who might be vulnerable and at risk of anti-social behaviour so they develop specific action plans to stop that person from being a victim of harassment”.
He added: “We have hosted a number of conferences to raise awareness of the issue of disability-related harassment and have enhanced our provisions for schools-based officers who can combat hate crime and bullying in schools.”
21 January 2011