Northern Ireland news

James Fenton inquest: Officer regrets woodland was not searched

James Fenton (22) disappeared from the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on July 2 2010
Staff Reporter

A POLICEMAN who was part of an initial search to find missing mental health patient James Fenton has said he regrets not searching the wood where Mr Fenton's body was later found.

The 22-year-old was admitted to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Co Down, in July 2010. He later climbed over the wall of a smoking area at the hospital and disappeared.

His body was discovered in the grounds of the hospital 10 weeks after he went missing.

Two officers gave evidence to Mr Fenton's inquest on Tuesday.

One officer said he and a colleague were told to search the grounds of nearby Tor Bank school where Mr Fenton was believed to have been seen.

The school was mentioned in information supplied to the policeman's radio controllers.

The officer said he wished he had been told to search the wood where Mr Fenton was eventually found.

"I wish I had searched that area. It's a matter of regret to me that I didn't," he told the inquest.

The two officers later searched for Mr Fenton by driving around roads in the hospital grounds and roads towards Bangor.

The officer explained that initial searches at the school and hospital grounds near the ward meant that police did not ask hospital staff about Mr Fenton or his whereabouts during the first hour of their search.

The second policeman said he and his colleague both felt the mention of Tor Bank school made it the best place to start their search.

"Nothing would have given us greater pleasure than to have located Mr Fenton that evening," he said.

Coroner Joe McCriskin asked why the officers had not requested help for a wider search but they said this would have been unusual and they were not authorised to make that decision.

Several officers later searched the hospital grounds the following day but nothing was found.

The second officer said he spoke to hospital staff but had not stayed longer because the ward was busy and the presence of police often upset psychiatric patients.

He agreed he had not examined the smoking area in the ward, nor had the officers asked to look at CCTV footage.

The Fenton family has insisted the initial search was inadequate.

In 2013, the Police Ombudsman criticised the search for Mr Fenton and 12 PSNI officers were later disciplined.

The two constables who gave evidence yesterday were not among those disciplined by the ombudsman.

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