Coroner blasts Derbyshire police missing man inquiry as 'investigation of assumption'
A CORONER has condemned the police investigation into the disappearance of a Derby man who was later found dead, saying it "fell far short of the standards that the public should expect".
Dr Robert Hunter said Sergei Kerov's mother had been "let down" by Derbyshire police and described the force's missing person inquiry as "collective complacency".
He also concluded there had been poor "command and communication" during the investigation.
He said: "No one seemed to take ownership of this inquiry and there was no evidence of any clear and effective command and coordination to the investigation. It was an investigation of assumption. Everyone assumed someone else was doing something."
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Dr Hunter made the comments during an inquest into the 33-year-old's death, which heard officers did not go to Mr Kerov's house in Walbrook Road, Derby, until 18-and-a-half hours after he was reported missing.
They also failed to search the house and gardens when they received no response after knocking on the door.
Mr Kerov, who was born in Russia, was discovered hanged in the cellar by his landlady more than three hours later.
Dr Hunter also said the response to Mr Kerov's missing person report had been "put on the back burner" because of a large-scale drugs bust in the city.
He said: "Mrs Kerov had been let down by the police on this occasion.
"The inquiry into Mr Kerov as a missing person fell far short of the standards that the public should expect from a professional police force.
"With the exception of the inquiry officer, all the officers involved in Mr Kerov's missing person inquiry failed to effectively progress the inquiry in accordance with force policy.
"The inquiry into Mr Kerov's disappearance can be summarised in two words; collective complacency."
Dr Hunter made his comments after a jury returned a verdict that Mr Kerov had "taken his own life while the balance of this mind was temporarily disturbed".
The jury also said they had reached a unanimous decision that Mr Kerov would have been dead before his mother, Irina, reported him as missing to the police on Monday, September 13, 2010, at 2.30pm.
The inquest at Derby and South Derbyshire Coroner's Court heard Mrs Kerov told police she was worried for her son's safety as he had broken up with his partner, had begun drinking heavily and she had not spoken to him since Saturday, September 11.
A post-mortem examination found the cause of death to be hanging. Further tests showed that he could have died any time between 5.15pm, when he was last seen alive, and midnight on September 13. He was found dead on September 14.
The inquest was told that when Mrs Kerov contacted police, an inquiry officer at Pear Tree police station logged Mr Kerov as a missing person with a priority tag – one down from the most serious, immediate.
It was not until 8.45am the next day that two officers went to Mr Kerov's house and they did not carry out a search or door-to-door inquiries despite not getting a response when they knocked on the door.
The computer log was also not updated to reflect the failed search after the officers informed a colleague back at the police station.
The inquest heard the pair also only had 15 minutes to carry out the search because one of the officers had to go to a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Dr Hunter said: "Did he really expect to search all the attic, all rooms and cupboards, gardens and outbuildings and the cellar in less than 15 minutes to enable him to get to his meeting?
"It would appear that they attached a higher importance to that meeting than searching for Mr Kerov."
During the inquest the court was told that a series of drugs busts, called Operation Daytona, were carried out in the Pear Tree area at the same time Mr Kerov went missing.
When giving evidence to the inquest, officers involved in the investigation made reference to the operation as mitigation for their response.
But Dr Hunter rejected this and said: "Operation Daytona would have no significant impact on other police activity or the missing person inquiry into Mr Kerov's disappearance. It is therefore wrong in my mind for the officers to cite this as a reason to justify their actions."
Dr Hunter also raised concerns about the lack of communication between officers and sergeants.
The inquest heard that a police sergeant had told the force's control centre that he had allocated an officer to deal with the report.
But he failed to tell the officer until hours later. The officer then contacted Mrs Kerov to say somebody would visit her shortly to speak to her – but nobody turned up.
Dr Hunter said: "It would appear that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. Although a number of tasks had been generated, none of these had been actioned effectively and this was down to poor command and communication."
The inquest heard the force carried out an internal misconduct hearing, led by Superintendent Sunita Gamblin, following Mr Kerov's death.
Supt Gamblin told the inquest that sanctions had been taken against officers and that searching Mr Kerov's home should have been a priority.
She said: "There is a real recognition that Mrs Kerov's worries should have been reduced straightaway. We should have found him."
Dr Hunter concluded Mr Kerov's inquest by saying he would write to the Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner outlining recommendations to improve communication.
He said these would including streamlining the investigation process and giving officers mobile data terminals so reports could be "updated in real-time" rather than waiting until officers returned to the station.
Supt Gamblin said the force hoped to buy mobile data terminals next year .
Following the inquest, Derbyshire police issued an apology.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill said: "I acknowledge Dr Hunter's comments in relation to the death of Mr Kerov and would like to apologise unreservedly for our failings and the delay in finding his body.
"I'll now review the outcome of this inquest and look to implement a number of recommendations and address any training issues.
"I'd like to pay tribute to Mr Kerov's mother, who has assisted police with great dignity since the death of her son. I'd like to thank her publicly for the level of understanding she has shown to Derbyshire Constabulary at what must be a very difficult time for her."