The family of a man who died in a Scarborough lake are angered that the police officer, who carried out just a four-minute search, said she would do the same again.
Gavin Egan, aged 34, from Scarborough, was pulled from a lake in Peasholm Park by a dog-walker in the early hours of 24 February 2016.
The dog-walker left the area to call emergency services but Mr Egan was not there when they arrived. He was found in the lake by a member of the public around eight hours later.
An Independent Police Complaint Commission investigation report, released today, found that PC Helen Hardie, who was called to the scene, had not taken all reasonable steps to investigate the incident and did not undertake an effective search.
But at the inquest into Mr Egan's death, when asked by coroner Michael Oakley if "in hindsight" she would have done anything differently she claimed she wouldn't if presented with the same scenario again.
It was a comment which has angered Mr Egan’s mother, Lesley Shields, and caused her lawyers to write to the force asking the Chief Constable to explain its position.
“Given all that has happened, from her complete lack of commitment on the night to finding Gavin, to being criticised by the IPCC and then reprimanded and found guilty of misconduct by her own force, I found it appalling that PC Hardie could say such a thing. She twice said she’d not do anything differently when questioned,” said Mrs Shields.
“She has showed no remorse at all in my view and it has left me fuming at the way we have been treated since Gavin’s death. She’s obviously not learned any lessons either, she’s not willing to as she was bold enough to stand there in front of us and effectively say she’d done nothing wrong.”
Mrs Shields’ lawyer, civil liberties specialist Andrew Petherbridge, of Hudgell Solicitors, has already written to North Yorkshire Police making the ‘representations in the strongest possible terms’ regarding PC Hardie’s comments at the inquest.
“We were astonished to hear PC Hardie tell the Coroner that if she were to be presented with the same circumstances again she would in fact do nothing different. This comment has caused a great deal of distress to Mr Egan’s family,” said Mr Petherbridge.
“Clearly, a suitable development plan has not been addressed with PC Hardie and she appears to have also failed to recognise her failures and learn from these."
The IPCC looked at the actions of the police prior to Mr Egan being discovered. In the investigator’s opinion, PC Helen Hardie, who attended from North Yorkshire Police, had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
The investigation found that a four-minute search was carried out before PC Hardie left the area, she did not seek assistance and the incident log was closed soon after.
PC Hardie relied on incorrect information from the call log that Mr Egan had fled the area, despite a paramedic’s view that he would be incapable of such action because of freezing temperatures - it was -4C that night.
It also found that no enquiries were made with the dog-walker and PC Hardie reported to an inspector that there was no evidence a man had been pulled from the lake.
Although the IPCC investigator’s opinion was that PC Hardie had a case to answer for gross misconduct, the IPCC Commissioner subsequently agreed with North Yorkshire Police that the allegations amounted to misconduct and, following a meeting, PC Hardie was issued with a written warning.
Coroner Michael Oakley gave narrative verdict and concluded that even with the use of a police helicopter and an underwater search team, it was unlikely that they would have recovered Mr Egan alive.
Following the inquest, Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick said: “Firstly may we offer our deepest sympathy to Mr Egan’s family and friends following his death. Now that the facts of the case have been established through the conclusion of the inquest, we sincerely hope that Mr Egan’s loved ones now have a degree of closure.
“It’s important that our response to the incident is seen the context of the events on the morning that Mr Egan died, including the fact that the initial call from the man who rescued Mr Egan was made to the ambulance service who attended and carried out a 38-minute search for Mr Egan.
"We were called approximately half an hour after this first call and arrived at the scene 15 minutes later. A further short search was carried out by our officer and discontinued. Tragically, Mr Egan’s body was recovered from the lake later that morning.
“The coroner recognised that the search carried out by our officer was reasonable, given the information available at the time.”
A spokesperson from the Police Federation said: "We extend our deepest sympathy to the family for the loss of Mr Eagan in such tragic circumstances. We hope that the detailed investigation undertaken by the IPCC has gone some way to answering the family’s questions about the events of that night.
"Paramedics had already searched for a considerable time in an effort to locate Mr Egan before police were called. The findings of the coroner, that the subsequent search carried by the officer was reasonable, given the information available at the time, support the IPCC decision to overturn their own initial recommendation that the officer had a case to answer for gross misconduct."
Mrs Shields added that she felt let down by North Yorkshire Police, not only by the actions of officers on the night itself, but also ever since her son died.
“I have been left very angry and disappointed at the way we have been treated, not only with regard to what happened on the night, but ever since and to this date by North Yorkshire Police,” she said.
“Firstly, I only found out that Gavin had died at 4pm the following day, not by the police, but by somebody else calling on the phone to offer me their condolences. It wasn’t until more than 28 hours after his body was discovered that I was finally visited by the police.
“It was also three days before the police told me that Gavin had actually been pulled from the lake earlier that night. Then, as a family we prepared for the inquest last November, only to be told the day before that PC Hardie would not be attending.
“Finally we have the inquest and we are made to feel like there is no remorse at all.”
The investigation also looked into a complaint about a delay by North Yorkshire Police in informing Mr Egan’s next of kin of his death but did not find evidence of misconduct by any individual officer.
Organisational shortcomings were identified in how messages were passed between officers, resulting in an unnecessary delay. As a result the IPCC Commissioner recommended North Yorkshire Police guidance on the delivery of death messages should be reviewed, and this was accepted by the force.
The IPCC has also recommended that the force improves communication between the force control room and officers responding to incidents to help provide more detailed call logs.
At the first inquest hearing in November last year, forensic pathologist Peter Nigel Cooper found the cause of Mr Egan's death to be "consistent with drowning." He added that bruises found on Mr Egan’s arm were consistent with him having being “helped from the lake”.
Mrs Shields said her son had lived a difficult life in which he had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, had suffered from depression, and overcome a brain aneurysm.
He was taking doses of methadone which reduces withdrawal symptoms and at the time of his death was on a low dosage. A toxicology report found that he had both cannabis and methadone in his system when he died.