Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick apologised on Monday after a police watchdog found its handling of the search for two missing sisters later found murdered had been “unacceptable” — one of several cases that have raised questions over the force’s handling of women’s safety.
Dick said in a statement her “thoughts and deepest sympathies” were with the family and friends of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry after the Independent Office for Police Conduct criticised the conduct of a Met inspector, a civilian communications supervisor and a call handler over the case.
A duty inspector closed a missing persons log on June 6 last year after three separate calls reported the women missing. It was not reopened and police resources were not deployed to look for them until mid-morning the following day.
A search party organised by the family found the women dead on June 7 in Fryent Country Park, in Wembley, north-west London. Danyal Hussein, 19, was convicted of the two women’s murder in July this year.
The police’s handling of the case has been widely cited by campaigners as evidence of the Met’s poor handling of allegations of violence against women. Those have become a significant issue in light of the conviction of Wayne Couzens, who was a serving officer in the force at the time, of the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March this year.
Dick faced severe criticism over that case but has retained the support of Priti Patel, home secretary, and Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor.
“My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Nicole and Bibaa for their tragic losses,” Dick said.
“The way we responded to information that Nicole and Bibaa were missing that weekend was below the standard we should have achieved and compounded the distress felt by their loved ones.”
The women’s mother, Mina Smallman, who is black, had said she suspected the police mishandled the case partly because of Bibaa Henry’s race and because she lived on a council estate. The IOPC said it had investigated whether the investigation had been affected by the women’s ethnicity or where they lived and concluded it had not.
Sal Naseem, the IOPC’s regional director for London, said the investigation, as well as identifying three individuals whose performance had fallen short of expected standards, also identified failings in the service provided and advised the Met to apologise for them.
“It is vital that the force addresses these shortcomings and effects long-lasting change and improvement to help restore public confidence in the [Metropolitan Police Service],” Naseem said.
The inspector and communications supervisor will both be called to formal meetings to discuss their actions. The call handler will face a “performance discussion” with a line manager.
The force said that, as a result of the IOPC’s recommendations, the force had introduced an “enhanced training pack” for all call handlers.
Dick said that, while it was now known the women had been murdered in the early hours of June 6, before they were reported missing, a better police response might have saved their family and friends “immeasurable pain”.
“I am very sorry that the level of service we provided fell short,” she said.
The IOPC investigation was separate from an investigation of the behaviour of two officers who were assigned to guard the murder scene.
Two officers, Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis, are awaiting trial for misconduct in public office over claims they took selfies of themselves with the bodies.