Police Investigations and Review Commissioner finds failings in Police Scotland handling in case of vulnerable woman

Written by Jenni Davidson on 7 November 2017 in News

Elizabeth Bowe was found at her home in St Andrews with serious injuries an hour and a half after calling 999

Police Scotland - Image credit: Ian Britton via Flickr

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) has found a number of failings in the way that Police Scotland handled a call from a vulnerable woman, before she was murdered by her brother.

Police took nearly an hour and a half to respond to a call from 50-year-old Elizabeth Bowe that her brother had stolen her mobile phone, even though she was recorded on their systems as a vulnerable person who had been subject to domestic abuse, including allegations that she had been assaulted by her brother, Charles Gordon.

Bowe was found seriously injured at her home in St Andrews on 17 September 2016 after her brother called police to say he had killed her. She died of her injuries three days later.

PIRC commissioner Kate Frame said: “Had Police Scotland timeously dispatched resources in accordance with their call priority system following Elizabeth Bowe’s 999 call one hour and 24 minutes earlier, officers may have arrived at her home prior to her receiving the injuries from which she died and thereby prevented her death.”


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Errors in call handling were found to have contributed to the delay in response, with the initial call handler not recording all the details, such as that she was a vulnerable person who needed her phone to communicate concerns for her own safety, and a communications controller deciding that no crime had been committed and that no police response was required.

Frame made a series of recommendations in her report on the incident.

These including that Police Scotland take action to ensure that calls for assistance from known vulnerable people receive an appropriate response.

It also recommended that staff in its area control room at Bilston Glen receive appropriate training on the identification, management and prioritisation of calls from vulnerable people.

This is not the first time that Police Scotland has been criticised for its call handling procedures at the Bilston Glen control room.

In July this year, PIRC identified failings after Police Scotland took seven days to respond to four reports of concern from the public about Andrew Bow, a vulnerable man with Asperger’s Syndrome in Edinburgh, who was later found dead in his flat.

And in July 2015, John Yuill and Lamara Bell lay undiscovered in their wrecked car for three days following a crash on the M9 near Stirling, after officers failed to respond to a call by a member of the public.

Responding to the PIRC report, Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson said: “My thoughts and sympathies are with Elizabeth Bowe’s family and friends.

“Police Scotland have accepted the findings of the PIRC report and highlighted a number of improvements being made following this incident, including risk and vulnerability training to over 800 staff.

“I expect them to continue to ensure that the recommendations are implemented and for the Scottish Police Authority to closely monitor progress.

“Police call handlers play a critical role in supporting and safeguarding members of the public and HMICS recognised the significant progress made in this area when it last reported on call handling in January of this year.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: "This is a terrible tragedy.

"Bilston Glen was at the centre of the response to the M9 incident.

“Officers, staff and the public will be horrified to learn that its processes have so tragically failed once again. 

"The public will expect an urgent response from Police Scotland.

“Its procedures must be strengthened so that all decisions are informed and make use of the range of information available to the national force."

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