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Police say sorry for treatment of bereaved pensioner

By Will Clark

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POLICE Scotland has made an unreserved apology to a Caithness pensioner who was forced to leave his house in the wake of the sudden death of his wife after being told it was being treated as a crime scene.

Chief inspector Garry Cameron said CID officers should have been called out to Naver Road, Thurso to investigate the death on Saturday, May 4 and not have waited until the next morning.

Retired Church of Scotland minister the Rev Ken Warner made a complaint on behalf of the man and his family, who do not wish to be identified.

Mr Warner said that further distress was added by the decision to send the woman’s body to Inverness for a post-mortem examination.

Suspecting there had been a change following the absorption of the former Northern Constabulary into a national police force, he said at the time: "I fear that bureaucracy has taken precedence over sympathy and compassion."

The woman collapsed at the top of the staircase in her house, with efforts by paramedics to revive her being unsuccessful.

It was quickly ruled there were no suspicious circumstances.

Police arrived and Mr Warner said the constable in charge shocked the family by declaring the house a crime scene and that no examination would take place until the morning. The husband was told he wouldn’t be able to stay in the house and alternative accommodation should be sought for him, which resulted in him staying with his son.

Mr Warner provided the John O’Groat Journal with the letter from Ch Insp Cameron, responding to his complaint about how the husband was treated.

He states: "It is clear that a CID officer should have been called out to attend at the home address on May 4, 2013.

"I would also like to provide an unreserved apology for the additional distress that was caused.

"From the conversation, temporary inspector Nick Clasper (who helped investigate the complaint) felt the two officers behaved in a professional manner.

"He made an observation that they may have been too focused on the circumstances and in trying to do everything right, they came across as slightly insensitive."

Mr Warner, of Clayock, Halkirk has accepted their apology but said the affair is an example of bad practice which he hopes would not be repeated.

"There seemed to be a suggestion on the night in question that the CID were not called because overtime had stopped since the inception of Police Scotland," he said.

"But an officer came to see me personally to say that wasn’t the case and explained the responsibility of the decision not to call CID officers was with the officer in charge.

"It was made clear nothing had changed since Northern Constabulary merged with the Scottish force and the CID could have been called out to assist the situation instead of waiting until the next morning."

He added: "It appeared thoughtless to put a bereaved person out of their own house which is the ultimate place of security and sanctuary.

"But they have made an unreserved formal apology for causing unnecessary stress to the gentleman which he has accepted and the matter is now closed."

The chief inspector revealed that the duty officer has received corrective advice regarding his decision to leave the examination until the next day and that the two officers will also receive advice on dealing with distressed relatives.

In a brief statement, Police Scotland insisted the failure to call out a detective on the night was not a result of any changes to staffing in Caithness and was squarely the decision of the officer in charge.

A spokesman said: "It was an operational decision at the time and not as a result of any reduction of officers."

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