Police apologise to family for waiting 14 hours to respond call by woman who reported she was being beaten by two men
Warwickshire Police has agreed a pay-out to the family of 44-year-old Luisa Mendes, who was found dead at an address in Leamington Spa the morning after police failed to respond to her 999-call saying she was being beaten by two men.
In a letter of apology to Luisa’s family, Warwickshire Police acknowledge that errors were made in the handling of the call including a failure to upgrade the incident categorisation and the decision to defer the incident until the following morning. The police did not attend the address where Luisa had been calling from until 14 hours after she had phoned 999.
No one was charged in relation to Luisa’s death, however a jury at the inquest into her death unanimously concluded that on the balance of probabilities Luisa had been assaulted and had died because of trauma caused by the assault.
Luisa moved to England from Portugal in the 1990’s and led a happy life, running a successful business. She experienced difficulties following the breakdown of her long-term relationship and the collapse of her business and from then on developed alcohol dependency, became unemployed and sporadically homeless. She had also experienced domestic violence.
From time to time she lived with a man, Mr Chris Taylor who was also an alcoholic, at his home in Leamington Spa. Another man, Mr Nicholas White also lived at the address on and off. In the months before her death Luisa had called the police on a number of occasions saying she had been hit and that she was being followed.
On 24 October 2012, at 8pm, a 999-call from Luisa where she was heard to scream and hang-up was returned by the call operator and was answered by Mr White. Both Mr White and Mr Taylor denied there was any problem but Luisa confirmed she was being beaten and was heard in the background saying “don’t beat me, don’t touch me” repeatedly.
The operator confirmed to the two men that police would attend within the hour but categorised the call as a “rowdy/nuisance call” when it should have been classed as “violence”.
Opportunities for police to upgrade the call to “violence” and attend the scene quickly were missed including officers not reading the notes relating to the call and failing to handover adequately between shifts.
Police eventually attended the address the next day at 10am. Luisa was found collapsed in the bathroom. Paramedics were called but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
The jury at the inquest into Luisa’s death concluded that there were police errors and omissions in: (i) the call categorisation; (ii) the handover procedures for the police controllers; (iii) the deferral of the 999 call; (iv) the police computer systems; and (v) the supervision of the police staff. The jury concluded that these errors or omissions possibly caused or contributed to Luisa’s death.
Nancy Collins, civil liberties solicitor at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen was instructed by Luisa Mendes’ brother and mother, to bring a claim against Warwickshire Police based on the force’s failure to protect Luisa’s right to life under the Human Rights Act. Her barrister was Graeme Hall of Doughty Street Chambers.
Following an IPCC investigation, misconduct action was taken against four police officers. The force admitted liability for the breaches of the Human Rights Act and settled the claim for £21,687 and issued a formal apology to the family.
Nancy Collins says: “Luisa was a vulnerable woman who was known to the police and had been a victim of domestic violence. The police had a duty to protect her and when she dialed 999 saying she was being beaten, help should have been sent immediately. Instead, the collective failures of police officers and employees meant that she was treated as a nuisance rather than a victim and help did not arrive until it was far too late. It is hoped that lessons will be learnt from Luisa’s death and that where there is a risk of domestic violence appropriate and timely support will be provided.”
Vitor Mendes says: “My sister had led a happy and fulfilling life before problems in her relationship and business meant that she turned to alcohol. She was vulnerable and deserved protection from the police, regardless of her difficulties. Whilst this settlement does little to compensate for our loss, four years on, I hope that Warwickshire Police will be true to their word and review their systems and policies to ensure they protect people like Luisa in the future.”
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Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice.
- For almost 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
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