Another recent Preventing Future Deaths notice from a Coroner has pricked my attention, concerning the sad death of Hannah Breadshaw from Greater Manchester. Inevitably, PFDs are brief and not all details are included, but to my reading, this may be about the ever-blurred distinction between a threat to life incident and a somewhat more routine “welfare check”.
The relevant timeline regarding a call to Greater Manchester Police (GMP) about Hannah’s welfare is given as –
The IOPC were informed of the incident and they flagged three particular concerns prior to the inquest. 1) a failure to escalate the incident, 2) a failure to make method of entry equipment more readily available; and 3) issues about document management (unspecified). For me, the PFD raises a number of questions I can’t answer because the detail relevant to determining them is not included in the PFD and this would appear critical to understanding the implications of this sad case:
The first question that should be asked in a report which amounts to a “concern for welfare” is whether it is known or suspected to be any kind of threat to life. This is for important legal reasons: firstly, the police service have clear and unambiguous responsibilities to protect life and, for example, can force entry to any premises in order to do so. It is less clear around what are sometimes called “concerns for welfare” or “welfare checks”. Clearly, anything amounting to a threat to life is also a concern about someone’s welfare, but the reverse is not always true. We can be concerned that someone is not OK whilst not necessarily believing their life is at risk – understanding this stuff is key, not least because the police cannot force entry to someone’s home for a “welfare check”. The Syed case above involved a situation where the police purported to rely on the “life and limb power” under s17(1)(e) of PACE for a welfare check and the court ruled this was inadequate.
So understanding the information being offered is crucial and if necessary, non-leading questions should be asked of callers to make sure this is clarified as well as possible (and it won’t always be possible). That’s why my second batch of bullet points, above is key to my understanding of this particular case. One version of events may be that Hannah’s friend knew she’d be researching suicide, told that to the police at 12:30pm and it makes the response look inadequate on all viewings. Another version might be that Hannah’s friend did not know the research she’d done prior to ringing about “welfare concerns” or, if she did, wasn’t clear about that point (no criticism – some callers aren’t quite sure what information is needed and one can imagine making a call like that about a friend, whilst worried, would be stressful). So perhaps GMP did think this was a concenr for welfare not amounting to an immediate threat to life. Then we need to know if that was re-framed after arrival of the paramedics: them seeking forced entry should be a trigger for reconsideration – it is either thought by the ambulance service to be a threat to life or it’s not. Did they flag it as such and if not, what did GMP make of the request for forced entry (bearing in mind it can only be forced if it is a “life or limb” incident.
This is why unblurring the lines to ensure clarity about what is a threat to life incident (with an Article 2 ECHR duty), and what is “just” a concern for welfare (no legal obligation for the police, per se and no power of entry) is so important and the distinction should be drawn in all policy relating to this and reinforced to call handlers who are key to ensuring the threat and risk involved is properly understood.
Winner of the President’s Medal, the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award
All opinions expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation. (c) Michael Brown OBE, 2022
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