James Fenton: Coroner criticises police over missing man search

James Fenton disappeared from the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on July 2 2010
Staff Reporter

A CORONER has criticised police for failing to find a mental health patient who died in the grounds of a hospital.

James Fenton (22) was admitted to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Co Down, in July 2010 but he later climbed over the wall of a smoking area and disappeared.

His body was discovered on the hospital's grounds, less than 40 metres from the ward, 10 weeks after he was last seen.

Police had searched the hospital grounds and told Mr Fenton's family they believed he was staying with friends.

The coroner told the last day of Mr Fenton's inquest yesterday that the officers' actions were "inexplicable, inexcusable and deeply unsatisfactory". He said if a police dog had been used in the search Mr Fenton might have been found earlier.

He ruled the cause of Mr Fenton's death could not be ascertained due to the advanced decomposition of his body.

In 2013 the Police Ombudsman issued a critical report into the search for Mr Fenton. A total of 12 PSNI officers were disciplined.

Superintendent Sean Wright, who attended the inquest on behalf of the PSNI, apologised to the Fenton family and acknowledged it had been a "painful week" for them.

"On behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland I wholeheartedly apologise to the Fenton family for the police failings in this case," he said.

"We would wish to assure the public that the Coroner did acknowledge the PSNI's policy around dealing with missing people is now fit for purpose and that our procedures have improved."

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