The Independent Police Complaints Commission can publish today the findings from its investigation into how Greater Manchester Police dealt with the anti-social behaviour experienced by David Askew and his family prior to his death.
The IPCC investigation found no evidence that individual officers had committed criminal offences or breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour. The investigation also recognised the local Neighbourhood Policing Team had shown real concern for the family and worked diligently to assist them at a local level since 2007, including undertaking work when off duty.
However, the investigation did identify higher level systemic failures within GMP and recommended lessons to be learned.
Mr Askew, 64, collapsed and died in the rear garden of his home in Melandra Crescent, Hattersley on Wednesday 10 March 2010 after an incident in which local youths had reportedly thrown a wheelie bin around and tampered with his mother's mobility scooter.
Following Mr Askew's death it emerged that he and his family had suffered harassment and anti-social behaviour over a number of years. Between January 2004 and March 2010 there were 88 reported incidents involving the family.
Following a referral by Greater Manchester Police, the IPCC decided to conduct an independent review of how the force had dealt with the reported anti-social behaviour.
The IPCC undertook a scoping exercise and decided the review would focus on the period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2009 when there was an apparent three-fold increase in the reports made by the Askew family to the police. The IPCC did not investigate three incidents in 2010, including an incident on the night when Mr Askew died, at the request of the Crown Prosecution Service in order to protect ongoing criminal proceedings.
The IPCC investigation team spoke with Mr Askew's mother, Rose, senior Greater Manchester Police officers and the local Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT). It also had access to an internal review conducted by Greater Manchester Police as part of a Serious Case Review, the force's policies around dealing with anti-social behaviour and logs detailing the history of calls from the Askew family over a 10-year period.
The investigation concluded the incidents had been dealt with solely at a local level and had never been escalated to a more strategic level. On an organisational level the investigation found there had been:
A lack of consistent identification of, and response to, the vulnerability factors affecting the Askew family;
A total failure to recognise and respond to the incidents as ‘hate crime';
An apparent lack of coordination and cohesive action between partner agencies;
A lack of robust offender management
In relation to point 1, the IPCC found that, even though a marker flagging the vulnerability of the family had been placed on GMP systems in 2004, in nearly half of the incidents reviewed by the IPCC there was no acknowledgement of vulnerability or the history of incidents and crimes previously reported.
However, the investigation also found that there did not appear to be any systems or guidance in place to deal with repeat incidents involving vulnerability even if it had been identified. As a result there was never the possibility for wider resources to be brought in to treat the problems as a priority.
Equally there was no indication that communications staff taking the emergency calls from the Askew family recognised the history of incidents or passed such information to response officers. As a result, response officers dealt with incidents in isolation without the knowledge of the history of anti-social behaviour being experienced by the Askew family.
The investigation found no evidence of liaison or joint working between the NPT and response officers. There was no reliable system in place to ensure the NPT was kept informed about incidents being reported by the family. Instead, in a demonstration of their diligence, the NPT relied on trawling police computer systems to identify if incidents had been reported.
In relation to point 2, GMP adopted the Association of Chief Police Officers Hate Crime Manual in 2007. This manual prompted a major review which sought to ensure a victim-centred approach to the reporting and investigation of hate crime. The force also made tackling hate crime a priority.
Mr Askew had learning difficulties and the definition of hate crime adopted by GMP listed disability as one of the motivations for hate crime, and stressed that a person with learning difficulties may not be in a position to recognise they had been subject to hate crime. As a result police officers could record such incidents as hate crime based on their or another person's perception.
However the incidents involving the Askew family were never recorded as hate crime by any of the police officers or call handlers. Without such identification there was never the possibility to deal with the incidents at a more strategic level as a priority.
In relation to point 3, it was clear from the investigation that no agency, including Greater Manchester Police, appeared to recognise the need to deal with the problems being experienced by the Askew family at a more strategic level. Although problems were identified, there appeared to be an absence of the agencies working consistently, cohesively and robustly together in order to solve them.
The IPCC's remit does not extend beyond the police and a Serious Case Review has been commissioned by Tameside Adult Safeguarding Partnership to look at the role of all agencies involved with Mr Askew.
Greater Manchester Police had no one recording system which allowed information about the problems being experienced by the Askew family to be stored. This meant there was no clear illustration of the extent and seriousness of the issues the family were facing.
Some actions taken by GMP caused their own problems. For example a CCTV system was installed as a joint initiative with the local housing trust. However, it was identified at an early stage that the footage recorded was not of high enough quality to secure evidence. The equipment remained not fit for purpose at the time of Mr Askew's death.
In relation to point 4, the IPCC investigation concluded that it could be perceived that Greater Manchester Police and partner agencies took the easier route of regarding Mr Askew as part of the problem and trying to focus on changing his behaviour, rather than robustly and consistently tackling the behaviour of the perpetrators.
The IPCC found no evidence of consistent collation of incidents and crimes to support potential prosecutions. The poor quality of footage produced by the CCTV system installed at the Askew family home and the lack of an intelligence record regarding the incidents also hampered attempts to detect and prosecute crimes.
IPCC Commissioner Naseem Malik said: "Anti-social behaviour is the type of low level crime that can pass beneath the radar of police. However for the families experiencing such crime it can be a horrific experience. The Askew family had experienced years of torment at the hands of local youths who targeted David in particular.
"It is fully acknowledged that since 2007 there was an escalation in efforts by the Neighbourhood Policing Team to assist the family. They showed genuine concern for the Askew family and in some cases they went beyond the call of duty by giving up their free time to assist the family. However their hands were tied by organisational shortcomings and the failure to recognise that the matter needed a higher level strategic approach.
"The lack of consistent identification of, and response to, the vulnerability factors affecting the Askew family; the total failure to recognise and respond to incidents as hate crime as well as the apparent lack of coordination and cohesive action between partner agencies; and the lack of robust offender management, all led to incidents being dealt with locally and in isolation over a number of years.
"While the Askew family perceived the work of the local team as assisting and giving them some comfort, they were actually being failed at a higher level as opportunities to implement a coordinated approach to tackle and deal with the problems was being missed. They were left with a sticking-plaster solution when the matter needed extensive surgery.”
Ms Malik added: "Greater Manchester Police have recognised the failings in this matter and have proactively undertaken work, coupled with the IPCC's investigation, to learn lessons. Strategies and structures are now in place to tackle anti-social behaviour including the identification of vulnerability, repeat victimisation and offender management.
"My sympathies go out again to Mr Askew's family for their loss and the fact they had to endure the type of anti-social behaviour they faced for so long. I hope they can take some comfort that lessons have been learned from this tragedy that should ensure the public served by Greater Manchester Police can be confident the force now has the appropriate structures in place to tackle anti-social behaviour.”
NOTE - Rose Askew has asked the IPCC to request that the media do not try to contact her in relation to this announcement.
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