INQUEST: Police draw up new plans after emergency services took 90 minutes to get to Cowbit man who had wounded himself
An inquest has heard of continued steps by Lincolnshire Police towards better communications with East Midlands Ambulance Service after the two emergency services took almost 90 minutes to attend the scene of a man who had attempted to take his own life.
By the time crews arrived at Paul Woodham’s home in Meadow Walk, Cowbit, he had died.
The hearing at Boston Coroner’s Court on Wednesday was told that on the night of the incident – February 14, 2017 – EMAS was extremely busy and Boston and South Holland policing division was short-staffed.
An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct concluded that no act or omission by police had contributed to Mr Woodham’s death. However, call centre supervisor Anne Blackwell confirmed to assistant coroner Murray Spittal that the response would have been quicker with the normal complement of officers on duty.
Mark French, temporary chief inspector in the force control room (FCR), said he had recently implemented a system change whereby when “no resource available” is added to an incident log it prompts the controller to inform the supervisor and FCR inspector.
Ch Insp French, who has worked in the FCR for over three years, told the hearing: “During this time, especially early on, I experienced issues with EMAS and on occasion have had to fill in gaps.
“I’ve also learnt that as a service they are under a great deal of pressure as well. Over the course of the last two to three years there has been greater collaboration with EMAS and some of these issues have been addressed.
“One of the ways we worked better as a team was to have contact with our EMAS counterpart at the beginning of each shift. It was recognised that perhaps our communication wasn’t as good as it could be.”
Ch Insp French said the force was in negotiation with EMAS to get access to its operations manager so if there were an issue and police felt they were not getting the correct response, there would be an escalation process to a higher manager.
EMAS representatives said, given the information made available about Mr Woodham, it categorised the first 999 call at 7.38pm as “Green 2”, meaning a 30-minute response. A mental health practitioner tried unsuccessfully three times to phone Mr Woodham. It was then escalated to “Green 1”, and when a second 999 call was made at 8.56pm, it went to “Red 1” – the highest level of response.
An ambulance arrived 15 minutes later, shortly after responders from Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue which EMAS had requested. Police arrived at 9.06pm. Entry was forced and Mr Woodham’s body was found in the front room.
The inquest heard that it was the second time police had attended the property that evening. One of Mr Woodham’s siblings – Jeffrey – had called police around 5.30pm after being unable to get his brother to answer the door. Jeffrey knew Paul’s mood was low, he was drinking heavily and had spoken many times about wanting to end his life due to financial issues and the death of his dog. Paul had received support from a mental health team.
Police arrived and after several minutes Paul, who lived alone and was on medication following a brain haemorrhage some years earlier, appeared at an upstairs window shouting at them to go away or he would self-harm. The officers left the scene.
At 7.15pm, Jeffrey received a call from a friend of Paul’s saying that he had just phoned her to say that he had wounded himself and was “fading away”.
Jeffrey called police again but was told no officers were available to attend and he should call for an ambulance, which he did. He then tried unsuccessfully to wrench open a door before a neighbour of Paul’s climbed over a gate and spotted him slumped in the chair.
Mr Spittal’s conclusion on the death of Mr Woodham (63) was suicide.