Delays in the search for murdered Wigan teenager Ellen, investigation finds

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An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation has found that a lack of resources at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) contributed to a four hour delay in the search for Ellen Higginbottom.


Ellen, 18, was reported missing at around 7pm on 16 June 2017. She was found deceased at Orrell Water Park in Wigan in the early hours of the following morning. GMP’s criminal investigation found Ellen died prior to being reported missing. Mark Buckley, 51, from Preston, was jailed for life for her murder in September last year.

Ellen Higginbottom

Ellen Higginbottom

Our independent investigation, completed in December, looked at GMP’s response to Ellen being reported missing by her father; including the time taken to dispatch officers to search for Ellen at her last known location.

We focused on the actions of three radio operators and interviewed a number of key police witnesses. We found that information about Ellen being missing was placed on the police national computer (PNC) around 15 minutes after the report to GMP, shortly after 7pm on 16 June. The report was graded as a priority response which, in accordance with GMP policies, should be resourced within an hour.

However, dispatching officers to the incident was delayed 13 times due to a lack of available patrols at GMP who were already dealing with other priority incidents. The report was escalated once, and there was an attempt to find officers from another division but none were available. Shortly after 11.30pm, following a call to GMP from Ellen’s father requesting an update, officers became available and were dispatched to Ellen’s home and began searching for her.

Our investigation found insufficient evidence upon which misconduct could be proved for the three radio operators, but we felt that their performance – in failing to follow force ‘Escalation Policy’ for missing person reports – was unsatisfactory and fell below the standard expected.

GMP agreed with our findings, and made the decision not to conduct formal proceedings but to remind the call handlers of the Escalation Policy.

IOPC Regional Director for the North West, Amanda Rowe, said: “Firstly, I would like to reiterate our thanks to Ellen’s family for their assistance with our investigation, and the courage they have shown since her tragic death, and our thoughts and sympathies remain with them. This is a most harrowing case, and our investigators worked hard to ensure our involvement could be concluded as quickly as possible.

“It is difficult to draw definitive conclusions to this case. There were significant delays in dispatching officers, and clear evidence that there were simply no officers available. While we believe there were errors in following force policy, delays may still have been inevitable given the number of high priority incidents that day.

“Unfortunately in this case there is no simple answer, but we hope every effort is made in future to escalate such incidents. At the very least, the public should be reassured that if someone is reported missing, action will be taken as soon as possible.”

This information, as well as the final report, can be found on the IOPC website: here