Belfast Telegraph

Police criticised over search for tragic mental patient

By Staff Reporter

Police have issued an apology to the family of a man whose body was not discovered for 10 weeks after he went missing from a mental health unit at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

The body of Bangor man James Fenton was found close to the unit 10 weeks after he disappeared in July 2010.

Mr Fenton's mother Janice told the BBC yesterday that the outcome could have been very different if only the police had conducted a more thorough search at the beginning of their hunt for 22-year-old James.

"If they had looked for James and found James, they could have taken him into a ward and they could have helped him. If that wasn't the case, his family would have been able to see him again, would have been able to say goodbye," she told the BBC.

In 2013, 12 PSNI officers were disciplined after a Police Ombudsman Investigation into the police handling of Mr Fenton's disappearance.

Coroner Joe McCrisken, who conducted Mr Fenton's inquest, was heavily critical of the PSNI's performance in the search.

He described the PSNI's officers' actions as "inexplicable, inexcusable and deeply unsatisfactory".

Mr McCrisken also said that if a search dog had been used Mr Fenton's body could have been found more quickly

In the event, the Coroner ruled that the cause of Mr Fenton's death could not be ascertained because of decomposition .

Following the Coroner's criticism, the PSNI issued a 'wholehearted apology' to the Fenton family.

Superintendent Sean Wright who attended the inquest on behalf of the PSNI, said: "This has been a painful week for the Fenton family.

"My thoughts are with them all as they've had to revisit the tragic events of 2010.

"I note the findings of the Coroner and his comments made in respect of the police investigation.

"On behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland I wholeheartedly apologise to the Fenton family for the police failings in this case.

"We would wish to assure the public that the Coroner did acknowledge the PSNI's policy around dealing with Missing People is now fit for purpose and that our procedures have improved."

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