Police were unable to identify a woman they spoke to while she was missing because of an almost 20-hour delay in attending her family’s home, a review has said.
Student nurse Owami Davies, 24, from Grays, Essex, was found safe and well in Hampshire on August 23, more than seven weeks after she went missing.
A review by senior officers into the actions of the Metropolitan Police and Essex Police during the investigation has concluded, establishing several “learning points” for the forces to use during future incidents.
Among the findings was that the handover of information about the case between the forces should have been “more efficient and effective”.
A debrief held at Scotland Yard earlier this month established that Ms Davies was reported missing to Essex Police by her mother just before 1pm on July 6.
However, officers visited her family’s home at 8.20am the next day, resulting in a delay in her details being added to the police national computer (PNC), which is used to share information with other forces.
The delay was attributed to demand including two high-risk missing persons and an attempted murder investigation in the same district.
It meant that when Met Police officers spoke to Ms Davies in Croydon after being called by a member of the public the day she was reported missing, they did not realise the situation.
It was found the officers had dealt with her “compassionately”, despite facing a difficult balance in seeking support, while respecting her wish for privacy and request to be left alone.
The handover of information from Essex Police to the Metropolitan Police on July 23 was found to be insufficient due to challenges over duplicating work and swift responses to urgent inquiries.
During the investigation, the Met published an appeal with an image of a woman who was not Ms Davies, which has been put down to a human error, with “no evidence of racial bias”.
Officers were told she did not want help and left the address before the ambulance service could attend.
Ms Davies had last been seen walking north along London Road in Croydon on July 7 and concerns had been growing for her safety.
Despite the arrests of five people and numerous appeals for information, officers struggled to find Ms Davies as they trawled through 117 reported sightings.
The 118th report, made in response to a media appeal by a member of the public was the one which led to her being found.
There are nine recommendations for the Met and six for Essex Police, which the review said would benefit them in future investigations.
Among the advice for Scotland Yard is devising a suitable operational handover document to document time-critical information, consulting the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) for cross-border investigations and developing contingency plans to involve the public if required.
Essex Police are recommended to make it clear when police attendance is delayed, and form a missing persons team and agree a strategy for communication with the person’s family.
Commander Paul Brogden said: “As with any large policing operation, we have worked with our advisory groups to review our actions.
“I’m pleased that their feedback was largely positive, both about the officers involved and our handling of the investigation.
“The review did identify some important learning points, including how a missing person inquiry is transferred from one force to another to ensure work isn’t duplicated and any urgent inquiries are carried out as swiftly as possible.”
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