An investigation into the death of a veterinary nurse who overdosed on animal medicine has found “shortcomings” in the way Lincolnshire Police responded to concerns for her safety.
Helen Louisa Turrell, of North Coates in Louth, was taken to the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby after calling 111, telling the operator she had taken the medicine because she had ‘had enough’.
But the 33-year-old later fled hospital after asking to go outside for a cigarette, taking a taxi home and later being found dead in the early hours of February 19, 2016, by Lincolnshire Police officers.
However, both Lincolnshire Police and Humberside Police have been forced to take action after an investigation found they could have done better.
In total, action has been taken against seven officers.
Tom Milsom, Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) associate commissioner, said: “I offer my condolences to the family of Helen Turrell at this difficult time.
“Our investigation found some shortcomings in the way the two police forces handled their response to the report of concern for Helen’s safety.
“We have identified a number of organisational learning points for the two forces to consider, including the need to review how they liaise with the ambulance service and local hospitals when someone has left an A&E department without being assessed, in order that the most effective and swift response is provided.”
The IPCC investigated the actions of, and communication between, both police forces in responding, including risk assessments undertaken and the timeliness of attending Mrs Turrell’s address.
The investigation found that soon after midnight the ambulance service telephoned Humberside Police, the force which covers the hospital, to report a concern for her safety.
Humberside Police took one hour 34 minutes to inform its neighbouring force, Lincolnshire Police of the initial report.
Upon receipt of this report Lincolnshire Police upgraded the incident to ‘urgent’.
Officers were then deployed to the home address.
However, they were re-deployed to another urgent incident, delaying initial attendance at her home.
In the IPCC investigator’s opinion, some of the delay in the police response was avoidable.
This resulted in part from issues with communication between the police and the ambulance service and the assessment of risk.
Following the investigation, with the agreement of the IPCC, Humberside Police dealt with five staff members over unsatisfactory performance and Lincolnshire Police decided to give management action to two police officers.
A memorandum to make clear responsibilities between police and the ambulance service in responding to concerns for the welfare of vulnerable patients has been recommended by the IPCC following their investigation into Mrs Turrell’s death.
In a transcript of Mrs Turrell’s phone call to the emergency services, read out at an inquest held in the Lincoln Cathedral Centre, she said ‘she’d had enough’.
She said: “I’m just in a bad place.”
When asked if she had taken the overdose in a bid to end her life, she said: “I do not know.”
The phone conversation revealed Mrs Turrell, of North Cotes, who volunteered at the Ark Rescue Centre in Louth while working at Eastfield Veterinary Clinic near her home, was feeling down after the death of someone she knew.
Mrs Turrell had been given the medicine by a friend to take to the Ark Rescue Centre, which specialises in helping dogs.
Professor Ian Ellis, who works at the University of Nottingham and carried out a post-mortem on Mrs Turrell following her death, said that on the balance of probability she had died from an overdose of the medicine.
A Lincolnshire Police spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathy and thoughts go to Helen Turrell’s family.
“As the Independent Police Complaints Commission report acknowledged, Lincolnshire Police upgraded its response to ‘urgent’ once we received the referral from Humberside Police.
“This means that we aim to be at the location of the incident within 20 minutes of the first notification.
“Unfortunately another urgent call to a disturbance in Louth came in as the officer was on his way to Helen Turrell’s home and this delayed our resources further.
“He then had to break into Helen’s home when he got there and despite attempting to revive her she was pronounced dead by the paramedic.
“The pathology report at the inquest noted that Helen’s, ‘…death occurred at least two hours prior to the [Lincolnshire] Police arriving at 04:28 and may have occurred 3-4 hours earlier…’.
“Although there was no reference to Lincolnshire Police actions at the inquest, after discussions with the IPCC, two officers involved in the deployment to the incident were given management action.
“Once again our sympathy goes to Helen’s family that we could not have saved her life.”
Humberside Police assistant chief constable, Scott Young, said: “We accept the findings of today’s inquest and we will review all of its recommendations.
“We will also work with the IPCC on the findings of their report and make sure that we learn lessons from this tragic event.”
The jury in the inquest found that Mrs Turrell died by her own actions from an overdose of animal medicine but said there was insufficient evidence she intended to take her own life.