MPS to apologise for failings in Richard Okorogheye investigation
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) will apologise to the family of Richard Okorogheye, for failings identified by an Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation into the handling of initial reports that he was missing.
We found that the performance of three police officers and three call handlers fell below the standard expected and the force agreed that all of them would undergo reflective practice to address that. In our view their actions did not meet the threshold for disciplinary action.
Our investigation was completed last month and concluded that, overall, officers provided an unacceptable level of service to Ms Evidence Joel when she reported her son was missing and that the force should apologise. Richard was first reported missing on 23 March last year (2021) and his body was recovered from a lake in Epping Forest nearly a fortnight later, on 5 April.
We investigated complaints from Ms Joel about how she was treated during the calls, including one in which she was told words to the effect of: “If you can’t find your son, how do you expect us to?” She believed racism underpinned some of the treatment she received and that police were too slow to classify Richard as missing.
The evidence we gathered indicated that police failed to correctly record Richard’s medical condition after they were told he had sickle cell anaemia, and that this and other information should have been passed on sooner to the relevant team.
Our investigation found that:
- Richard should have been classed as a missing person earlier and he was classed as low risk for too long. He was reported missing on 23 March, classed as a missing person the following day and assessed as low risk. It was 27 March before the risk level was increased to medium and then high
- a call handler inaccurately recorded Richard’s condition as anaemia rather than sickle cell anaemia on the initial police report
- two other call handlers failed to update an inspector that Richard’s condition was sickle cell anaemia, as they believed there was no significant difference between the two conditions in terms of risk
- the inspector who made the initial assessment that Richard was ‘not missing’ did follow local guidance but, given his mother had reported that he left home without his medication, he did not accurately record and explain why his condition was not considered to be an immediate health risk
- a constable failed to add to the missing person report, concerns raised by Richard’s GP about the risks his condition posed to him. The officer assumed this was not new information.
IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said: “We have shared our findings with Richard’s family and our thoughts are with them and all those affected by his tragic death.
“We found that call handlers did not record or pass on information as they should have done and may have given Ms Joel a false impression about how they were treating her son’s disappearance, which can only have increased her frustration and anguish.
“In our view, one officer did make a comment which could be considered unprofessional, and which Ms Joel perceived as racist, at a time when she was clearly distressed. After carefully examining the evidence, we found the officer handled this call badly but could not conclude the inappropriate comment was influenced by any bias regarding Richard’s ethnicity. This does not in any way undermine Ms Joel’s experience of this call and perception of racial discrimination.
“Allegations of discrimination which are not overt are often difficult to prove and finely balanced. The evidence shows Ms Joel did have good reason to believe her concerns were not being taken seriously. She made multiple phone calls to police and concerns she raised about his condition were initially either mis-recorded or underestimated. This can only have heightened Ms Joel’s perception of prejudice, as sickle cell anaemia is particularly common in people with an African or Caribbean family background.
“While officers are not expected to have a specific level of medical knowledge, it does make it vital that concerns raised by family members or medical professionals are given proper consideration, which did not happen in Richard’s case.”
Our investigation explored whether the police response overall may have been affected by any racial bias. Failings were identified, particularly in the initial recording and risk assessment, but the evidence did not indicate that any delay in upgrading Richard’s risk level was due to his or Ms Joel’s race or that enquiries were progressed less timely than in other similar missing person cases we compared it with.
Mr Naseem added: “Clearly there were deficiencies in the way the MPS responded and we welcome their decision to apologise to Richard’s family, following our recommendation to do so. As part of our investigation, we have identified potential improvements in the handling of missing person reports, including better support for people facing a similar situation to Ms Joel. We will now be raising this with the MPS.”
Our investigation of the initial MPS referral concerning their handling of the missing person report before Richard’s body was found, considered whether any police action caused or contributed to his death. However our findings in relation to that are not being released at this stage as it will a matter for an inquest to determine.