Following concerns raised over the manner in which police failed to properly investigate the death of 21-year-old Katie Simpson, the Police Ombudsman has launched an investigation, having previously refused to act on a complaint.
Katie passed away on August 9, 2020, almost a week after allegedly being found hanging by the man now charged with her murder.
He was arrested on March 2 this year following the eventual launch of a murder enquiry just after Christmas.
But concerns were raised long before this and BBC Local Democracy challenged why these – some of which were reported to police as Katie fought for her life in Intensive Care – were ignored, and subsequent information following her death was not acted upon.
A record of actions from very specific information passed to police at Strand Road, Derry/Londonderry was repeatedly requested and when a response was finally received from PSNI headquarters, it contended that no indication of this was held on the system.
However all information pertaining to this, including text conversations and the Criminal Reference Number had been retained by the reporting person and have now been sent to the Chief Constable.
Others had also raised concerns, but police continued to treat Katie’s death as a result of suicide.
In addition, an attempt to report police failures to investigate beyond this to the Ombudsman was initially rejected on the basis it did not emanate from a member of Katie’s direct family, or on their behalf.
This was based the Ombusdman governance arrangements not permitting the investigation of a complaint against police inaction if the reporting person is not a relative of, or acting on behalf of a relative of the victim.
This decision was brought to the attention of Minister for Justice, on the contention the governance presented a potential flaw, particularly against a domestic violence background, where relatives may have been unaware of concerns. It could also suit perpetrators’ agendas to effectively shut down investigations, which they would be unlikely to generate.
A Department of Justice spokesperson replied: “It not the case that complaints should only be investigated if the complainant is a relative or acting on behalf of a relative of the victim, since there is the potential for members of the public “who have had occasion to be well informed as to the facts of the incident” to make a complaint.
“By way of example, if a member of the public alerted police to concerns but police failed to act on those concerns then that member of the public would be entitled to complain to the Office of the Police Ombudsman NI and they would consider that complaint if the person had direct knowledge of the matter about which they were complaining.”
This response was shared with the Ombudsman who today (Monday) have changed their position and have confirmed an investigation into two complaints about the police handling of Katie’s death, has commenced.
A spokesperson advised: “The complaints allege that given the circumstances of Katie’s death, police should have commenced a murder investigation sooner. We are now investigating this matter, and investigators have been appointed to progress our enquiries.”
Police Ombudsman investigators have appealed for anyone with information which might assist their enquiries to contact the Office’s witness appeal line on 0800 032 7880.
The thirty-three-year-old man charged with Katie’s murder is currently remanded in custody.