Police failed to act over woman's suicide warnings

POLICE are being asked to see if lessons can be learned for dealing with people threatening to harm themselves after a 21-year-old Sheffield woman was found hanged two days after she was released from police custody, despite telling officers she was suicidal.

Leanne Christina Whiteley, who had been arrested in connection with abusive telephone calls to one of her sisters, was found dead in the bedroom of her flat in Water Slacks Walk, Woodhouse.

An inquest heard she had told one police officer she was suffering from depression, was taking anti-depressants and had recently attempted to jump from a bridge. She told another she was suicidal.

But she was allowed home without speaking to any health professionals and without being offered any help or being referred to any agencies.

The decision breached South Yorkshire Police rules, which state anyone assessed as vulnerable should be seen by a doctor.

Coroner Christopher Dorries recorded a verdict that Miss Whiteley killed herself.

He said the last time officers spoke to Miss Whiteley, a few hours before her death, they did all they could for her – but lessons could still be learned.

"It is my intention to write to the Chief Constable to draw his attention to the circumstances. He might then consider what lessons can be learned from this case which might assist in the future.

"Whatever decisions were made, even if they might be challenged with hindsight, it is several stops further on to say that Miss Whiteley's death was caused by what went before or even that it would have been prevented if different decisions had been taken."

He said it was "unlikely in the extreme" she would have been detained under the Mental Health Act if she had been assessed by medics each time police officers had contact with her.

"I am not at all sure that even in a perfect world she could have been offered treatment that she would have found acceptable, which absolutely prevented the events of October 10 still happening."

The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded that the two officers who saw Miss Whiteley just hours before she died "acted appropriately" when they let her go, despite knowing she had just made threats to kill herself.

But its report pointed out that the officers had not been provided with information from police computer systems which would have alerted them to previous suicide attempts and her history of self harming.

Commissioner Nicholas Long said: "The officers who dealt with her on several occasions leading up to her death were placed in a difficult situation.

"Police officers are not health care professionals and they had to make judgement calls with regard to each situation they encountered.

"In hindsight it is almost certainly the case that opportunities for intervention were missed which might have led to Ms Whiteley receiving medical assistance.

"However, it is obvious Ms Whiteley's thoughts of self harm had escalated in the months prior to her death and it can never be said whether such intervention would have changed or stopped the tragic course of events."

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