Watchdog finds Met police failings in Richard Okorogheye disappearance

The family of a vulnerable black teenager who went missing and then was found dead were failed by the Metropolitan police when they most needed them, the police watchdog has found.

The desperate family of Richard Okorogheye, 19, were told by one call handler: “If you can’t find your son, how do you expect us to?” which the Met has accepted was insensitive.

Okorogheye was reported missing on 23 行进 2021. 警察 were told he had sickle cell anaemia and had left his west London home without his medication. A fortnight later his body was found in a lake in Epping Forest.

Sixteen months on, the Met has been told to apologise by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which found that the force did not take the case seriously enough and that the failings increased the family’s anguish.

Richard’s mother, Evidence Joel, said she would refuse the apology and was disappointed that none of the three officers and three staff responsible would face disciplinary proceedings. 反而, they will receive enhanced training. The IOPC felt the threshold for a misconduct charge was not met.

The Guardian understands that of the officers and staff, four were investigated for potential misconduct, with three interviewed and one providing a written account.

The IOPC found that one call handler wrongly recorded sickle cell anaemia, a condition more prevalent among African or Caribbean communities, as anaemia.

The IOPC said its inquiry concluded that Okorogheye should have been treated as missing earlier, and his case was classed as low-risk for too long, taking four days to be classed as high-risk. That decision affects the resources the Met puts into a search.

Two other call handlers failed to tell an inspector that the missing teenager had sickle cell anaemia, unaware there was significant difference between this and anaemia.

The inspector did not follow the guidance and was found to have kept an inadequate record of decisions made, and a constable did not add to the missing persons report concerns from Okorogheye’s GP about the elevated danger posed by his medical condition.

Joel said: “In the darkest period of my life I was dismissed by multiple Metropolitan police staff at all levels of seniority and my son’s disappearance was not taken seriously. It is a matter of deep regret to me that despite both the IOPC and Metropolitan police concluding that the performance of three police officers (including an inspector) and three call handers fell short of the standard expected, nobody will face misconduct proceedings. Therefore the apology is not accepted.”

Joel feels racial bias played a part in her receiving a poor service. The IOPC said it did not find evidence of this when it examined other missing person’s cases.

It was not the first recent case where the Met has failed a family of colour when they were searching for their loved ones. The IOPC also found failings by the Met when two sisters, Bibaa Henry, 46, and Nicole Smallman, 27, were reported missing. In that case the sisters were found murdered in the park in which they were last seen, with police not having searched for them. In that case too, no officer was disciplined.

The Met deputy assistant commissioner Bas Javid apologised and said: “We are challenging ourselves to do better at responding when someone does report a missing person. We are also introducing a new way to assess all the missing person reports we receive every day.”

The London mayor, 萨迪克·汗(Sadiq Khan), : “The mayor will hold the Met to account on addressing all the issues raised by the IOPC report to ensure the same failings are not repeated.”

The IOPC said parts of its report on whether police failings caused or contributed to Okorogheye’s death would not be released because of a pending inquest expected in 2023.

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