Learning for Greater Manchester Police after missed opportunity in search for missing man

Published: 31 May 2023

An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) search for a missing man in Wythenshawe identified learning to improve GMP’s response to missing person investigations in the future.

John Winterton, 26, was reported missing on 19 August 2021. Following a high-profile search, he was sadly found dead by GMP officers in Wythenshawe Park, on 25 August.

GMP made a mandatory referral and we independently investigated its response to the missing person report. This included speaking to those involved and reviewing body-worn video footage. We reviewed the steps taken by GMP to locate Mr Winterton, and whether these were appropriate and in line with national and local policies and guidance.

On conclusion of our investigation, in July 2022, we informed GMP we found there was a missed opportunity that could have led to Mr Winterton being found sooner by officers.

We found officers obtained Mr Winterton’s mobile phone data on 19 August which, once fully analysed, identified the approximate last known location of Mr Winterton’s phone. This was ultimately the same place he was eventually found by officers. However, a delay in accessing specialist support meant this information was not available to investigating officers until 25 August.

An inquest, which concluded on Tuesday (30 May) at Manchester Coroner’s Court found Mr Winterton died by suicide.

IOPC Regional Director Catherine Bates said: “I would like to offer my condolences to Mr Winterton’s family and friends, as well as all those affected by his death.

“Our investigation was independent of the police and found officers were in possession of data on day one of the investigation that, had they analysed sooner, may have led to Mr Winterton being found more quickly. Although the inquest found this was unlikely to have changed the tragic outcome, it may have lessened the considerable distress felt by his family during this difficult time had the search been concluded sooner.

“The evidence did not indicate anyone serving with the police may have breached the standards of professional behaviour, but we did identify two areas of learning for GMP. Our recommendations were shared with the force to improve its response to missing person investigations in the future.

“We also shared our findings with Mr Winterton’s family, and with the Coroner to assist with the inquest.”

We recommended that officers and staff be reminded of the investigative opportunities provided by phone data, as well as the resources available for analysing the data. We also recommended that GMP updates its policy for handling high-risk missing person investigations after we found there were delays in consulting and appointing a police search advisor in this case.

Our statutory recommendation, and the force’s response to it, will be published in due course.

  • Greater Manchester Police
  • Welfare and vulnerable people