Coroner finds ‘systemic failure’ in police response to teenager’s call for help

The inquest into the death of Matthew Mackell has concluded, with the Coroner finding that a ‘systemic failure’ led to police not sending officers to respond to his 999 call for help.

On 6 May 2020, 17 year-old Matthew Mackell called 999 asking if police could “send someone to pick me up” before taking his own life in Dunorlan Park. He was found by a member of the public the following morning. Matthew left behind two brothers and his father, Michael Bond.

Matthew excelled in school but struggled with the isolating effects of the pandemic.

The Coroner found that failings, including a ‘systemic failure’, led Kent Police not to send a patrol to find Matthew.  Staff were ignorant of an enhancement to their mapping software, which would have accurately pin pointed his location, failed to classify his call as a suicide risk, and downgraded the call from ‘immediate’ to ‘high.’  Staff also failed to check whether a patrol was available to search for Matthew, notify the appropriate senior officers or promptly send him a ‘concern’ text message. 

The Coroner confirmed that he would be sending a prevention of Future Deaths Report to Kent Police highlighting concerns in relation to the training provided to Kent Police Force Control Room staff.

Michael Bond, father of Matthew Mackell stated:

The Inquest showed that Kent Police had the ability to accurately pin point where Matthew was, and so urgently help him – but that they did not do that as their staff were ignorant of, and had not been trained in, how to access a crucial feature of their computer mapping systems. This was a major and, as the Coroner determined, systemic failing by Kent Police. I believe that had they sent someone to Dunorlan Park, they may have found and helped him.

The Inquest showed that Kent Police did not treat Matthew’s calls to them as a suicide risk, and, heartbreakingly, his calls were downgraded as less important. It is helpful that officers of Kent Police have admitted that was the wrong thing to have done, and not in accordance with their policies. The Inquest also showed that they did not check if a police patrol was available, and did not send one out to look for and help Matthew. They also did not call him back to check up on him.

Matthew was an amazing young man, and a wonderful son, and we will miss him forever. We are heartbroken. No family should ever have to suffer the loss of their child, knowing that they called for help and no one came.

I remain very worried that if this type of incident happens again, that staff may not be aware of guidance or procedure, and may not be appropriately trained. Kent Police still don’t seem to have enough training, even a year after Matthew’s death.

We are relieved that the Coroner is going to write to express his concerns, which we share with him, to Kent Police, about training of police officers. I believe there needs to be urgent action to prevent any further tragedies like this and to stop any other families experiencing what we have been, and continue, to go through.

If the death of our Matthew can achieve anything by way of change, that would be at least some small consolation.

I want to say thank you to the police, ambulance service and everyone else for all of their support during the most difficult time of our lives.

Michael Spencer was instructed by Daniel Cooper of Imran Khan and Partners Solicitors to represent the family.

Matthew’s friends are fundraising for Papyrus, the Suicide Prevention Charity.