Report exposes police failings over death of Dunipace man

David Penman was found dead in a van in December last year
David Penman was found dead in a van in December last year

The family of a man found dead in a van say they will “never know” if he would still be alive today had “prompt action” been taken by police.

An investigation was launched into the death of David Penman (46) who was found dead in a parked van in Dunipace on Thursday, December 15 last year after it was revealed police only found the body three days after they were first informed the vehicle was parked in a lay-by.

Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) Commissioner Kate Frame

Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) Commissioner Kate Frame

A post mortem examination revealed that Mr Penman died from carbon monoxide poisoning from inhaling the products of a small petrol generator found in the van. It could not be established whether his death was accidental or deliberate.

There has now been three investigations by PIRC (Police Investigations & Review Commissioner) into incident responses by Police Scotland involving deaths in the Falkirk area over the past two years.

In July 2015, Lamara Bell (25), from Camelon and partner John Yuill (28) were found in their Renault Clio three days after police had received a call that it had left the M9 motorway crashing into a field.

Ms Bell lay critically injured in the car before being found, but passed away in hospital on July 12. Mr Yuill is believed to have died on impact.

Arnold Mouat (64) from Bo’ness was reported missing on July 6 this year and, despite police checking his home at that time, he was found dead in a garage at the back of the family home four weeks later.

PIRC has now issued its findings from the Mr Penman probe into the response by police and Commissioner Kate Frame says there are “important lessons to be learned” in similar circumstances in the future.

Ms Frame identified failings in the way police responded to three separate reports of concern from members of the public over a three-day period at the time and has now made recommendations to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland.

She said: “It would be unrealistic to expect the police to investigate each report of an abandoned vehicle.

“However, in this case had the repeated concerns expressed by members of the public been acted on earlier, additional information would have been available which may have prompted officers to locate and search the van in the lay-by sooner.

“While it cannot be determined that if police had acted when the deceased’s vehicle was first reported, he would have been found alive, there are important lessons to be learned in how police deal with similar incidents in the future.”

The Commissioner has recommended that Police Scotland ‘adopt a flexible and practical approach to reports of abandoned or suspicious vehicles’ as well as examining ‘all the circumstances, which may include attempting to contact the owners, before deciding whether or not to undertake further enquiries’.

In a statement issued through PIRC, Mr Penman’s family said: “David was a loving father, son and brother and it has been very difficult for our family to come to terms with his death.

“We are aware of the PIRC report and its findings and we feel that it has provided us with some of the answers we were looking for.

“We will never know for sure whether David would still be alive if more prompt action had been taken initially, but we are pleased to note the recommendations in the report.

“We hope that Police Scotland will take these recommendations on board and that valuable lessons have been learned.

“As a family, we would now ask for our privacy to be respected so that we can continue to support each other through what has been, and continues to be, a difficult time.”

Assistant Chief Constable Nelson Telfer (Service and Protection) has assured the public that an internal review has taken place and changes have been made to prevent similar tragedies.

He said: “Our thoughts remain with the family of Mr Penman and all those affected by his death.

“So far, in 2017, Police Scotland has received in excess of 16,000 reports of abandoned vehicles, around 60 every day. The vast majority of these, like Mr Penman’s vehicle when checked on our systems are taxed, insured and legally parked.

“Following an internal review of this incident, discussions have taken place with Local Policing, C3 Division and Professional Standards and updated guidance has been issued to call handlers and Area Control Room staff to ensure appropriate actions are taken when dealing with a report of an abandoned vehicle.”

Mr Penman’s death was the second tragedy to hit the family in the space of four years after his son David Westwater lost his life at the age of just 22 after a workplace accident in Coatbridge.

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