'Failings' in PSNI dementia patient investigation

Warning: This article contains disturbing anonymous letters and distressing images that some readers may find upsetting

The PSNI has been accused of treating an elderly dementia patient and her family with contempt, after a police investigation into unexplained injuries she suffered in a care home, was found to have “significant failings”.

Lily Rawson, who was in her late 70s, endured four separate injuries on different dates in 2019 and 2020, while she was a resident in Bangor Care Home.

A Police Ombudsman’s inquiry has concluded “significant evidential opportunities” were missed by the PSNI team investigating allegations of mistreatment or abuse and recommended disciplining two officers.

The PSNI said it is taking time to review the findings and BBC News NI understands two officers have been disciplined.

However, Lily Rawson’s family has said this response is not good enough.

Her daughter, Alison McEwen, said she had at times felt dismissed by the police and “treated with contempt”.

She said two officers receiving “a slap on the wrist” was an insult to her mother – who died in 2021 - and police had failed a vulnerable woman.

Mrs McEwan has called for the case to be re-opened.

“I would appeal to [Chief Constable] Jon Boutcher, who I consider to be a decent man, that he gives us and gives my mother the investigation she should have had when she was alive,” she said.

“She was entitled to a proper investigation and she wasn't given it.”

Her call received support from the Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Justice Committee, DUP MLA Joanne Bunting.

“This case, it honestly will haunt me until the day I die; the details and photographs are disturbing and harrowing,” said Ms Bunting.

'Unexplained incident'

Lily Rawson’s story previously featured in a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme when Mrs McEwen explained she went to the police in June 2019, after her mother had been found on the floor of her room in Bangor Care Home’s dementia unit, bleeding from a head wound.

There was blood around the room, and what appeared to be blood spatter on the ceiling.

At the time, Bangor Care Home said this was an unwitnessed and unexplained incident, believed to be a fall.

Dementia patients, especially elderly, are at high risk of falling, but Lily Rawson kept suffering injuries, including extensive bruising and a broken finger.

Mrs McEwen then received an anonymous letter to her home which called Lily a “cheeky bitch”.

A second letter said a named nurse in the care home knew what had happened to Lily.

The police said no criminality was found to have taken place, with regard to the letters or Mrs Rawson’s injuries.

'Priority action'

In a 41-page letter to Mrs McEwen, Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said that the first senior investigating officer (Officer 1) appointed to the case did not have training in adult safeguarding or joint protocol – the procedure by which police and health authorities jointly investigate alleged mistreatment or abuse.

It was also found that Officer 1 did not have the marks on the ceiling forensically examined to see if they were blood – despite this being “a priority action”.

And he failed to take key witness statements, including from the staff member who found Lily Rawson bleeding.

Mrs Anderson said Officer 1’s conduct had fallen short of the required standards of his job and recommended he be disciplined.

The Ombudsman additionally found that another officer, Officer 3 - the case supervisor - could not provide evidence to show he had given regular direction or held regular supervisory reviews of the investigation, to ensure that investigative actions were being conducted.

The Ombudsman said Officer 3 should also be disciplined.

Mrs McEwen said the Ombudsman’s findings vindicated her view that the PSNI never took her mother’s case seriously. But, she added, many questions remain.

“I want to know what happened every time that she was injured. The only way they can fix it is to have a proper investigation, the evidence is all still there,” she said.

The Police Ombudsman is currently undertaking a wider investigation into policing policy and practice in the area of safeguarding that will be completed soon.

In a statement, the PSNI said it takes any alleged neglect or abuse in a care facility extremely seriously.

“We accept the Police Ombudsman’s review into our investigation and take on board their findings,” it said.

“We will now take time as a service to respond to and address any issues highlighted within.

“We remain committed to continuous professional development and learning.”

When Lily Rawson was resident in the home, it was owned by the Four Seasons Health Care Group.

In 2022, Four Seasons said it did not “recognise the allegations in relation to the historic operation of Bangor Care Home and will always fully and openly address any concerns” raised through their complaints procedure.

It added the home had six regulatory inspections between 2018 and 2022 and there has never been any enforcement actions. Bangor Care Home was sold to new owners in July 2022.