Police Scotland failed to respond to Edinburgh 999 call which left homeless man permanently disfigured

A serious assault which left a homeless man permanently disfigured, despite the fact he repeatedly called 999 for help, could have been prevented, Scotland’s police watchdog has ruled.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 12:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th September 2019, 1:36 pm
A third attack on the man could have been prevented, had police attended an initial report of serious assault, Scotland's police watchdog ruled. Picture: Toby Williams

In a damning report into Police Scotland’s Bilston Glen call centre, the victim was left to endure repeated attacks because staff at the facility said no officers were available to attend the initial incidents sparked by his calls.

The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) said a controller at the Edinburgh call centre failed to prioritise the incident and direct officers to deal with the reported assault.

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A third attack on the man could have been prevented, had police attended an initial report of serious assault, Scotland's police watchdog ruled. Picture: Toby Williams

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It said managers at Bilston Glen subsequently failed to notify the PIRC and senior Police Scotland managers of the serious incident in accordance with established procedures.

The incident happened at homeless accommodation in Penicuik, Midlothian, in the early hours of 3 September last year.

The man called 999 at 2 am and told Police Scotland that he had been seriously assaulted by another resident, needed medical attention and that the person responsible was still there.

The report found that the man was assaulted after he was asked by the other resident to take part in the rape of a woman, who was also living at the homeless accommodation, but he refused.

The report was passed to Bilston Glen in Edinburgh, but the controller said no officers were available to attend and did not send any officers to the incident.

At 2.21 am the injured man phoned 999 again to report a second assault on him by the same man and stated that he had a number of head injuries and was bleeding heavily.

A few minutes later Bilston staff called for an ambulance to attend but no police officers were sent because the controller said no resources were available.

Police Scotland received a further phone call at 2.47 am by a member of the public who reported a disturbance outside the homeless accommodation. Again, no police officers were sent as the area control room said no resources were available to attend.

The Scottish Ambulance Service initially did not send an ambulance as they did not have an ambulance available.

Just after 3am, the injured man was assaulted for a third time by the same man who punched and kicked him to the head and body whilst he was lying on the ground.

At some point, between the second assault and the third assault, the man forced entry to the female resident’s room and attempted to rape her.

The details of the incident were brought to the attention of a local police sergeant at 3.24 am who attended the homeless accommodation, supported by other officers, and found the man unconscious suffering from severe injuries, including facial injuries which required facial reconstructive surgery.

Just under an hour later, police officers discovered the woman in her room and she reported that the man who had carried out the assault had attempted to rape her.

The report found that during the course of the incidents, police officers in the area were directed to attend lower priority calls by Bilston Glen and, said the PIRC, itt appeared that “no thought had been given” to re-deploy local officers or task resources from adjoining areas or from other police units.

The man who carried out the assault was arrested and later stood trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. He was found guilty of assault to severe injury and permanent disfigurement and assault with attempt to rape on 18 December.

The man was detained in a state hospital for treatment for a mental health condition as he was considered to present a significant risk to his health, safety or welfare or the safety of others.

The trial judge Lord Mullholland was critical of the length of time it had taken police to attend in response to the victim’s emergency 999 calls.

Police Scotland referred the incident to the PIRC on 24 December, more than three months after the incident.

The PIRC report found that it was “highly likely” that the third assault on the man would not have occurred if the Bilston controller had directed officers to attend the initial reports of assault.

Officers were instead sent to lower priority incidents. It also found that there was no supervisory intervention or management of the incidents, despite them being visible to supervisors from 2.17am onwards.

The report could not determine whether, had the Bilston ontroller directed officers to attend the initial reports of a serious assault by the man, officers may have arrived in time to prevent the attempted rape of the woman.

The watchdog added that the failings identified in tits report “appear to be individual failings, not organisational failings.”

Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins said: “Our officers and staff work with commitment and professionalism day in, day out to provide a high quality police service for the public. We accept the commissioner’s findings and I am sorry that we did not meet those high standards on this occasion.

“We recognise the significant impact this has had on the people involved. We have already identified and addressed a number of the concerns highlighted in this report and will reflect on the PIRC’s findings to see if we can do more to improve how we serve the public.”

The force has provided one to one feedback to officers staff directly involved in the incident, with all control room staff undergoing training to highlight the “expectations” and “responsibilities” of their roles.

Supervisors within the force’s control rooms have also received briefings making clear the need for more “intrusive supervision,” as well as training on when to escalate incidents where “risks” are identified.