MPS to apologise to family of murdered sisters for 'below standard' response

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has been told to apologise to the family of two murdered sisters after its missing persons investigation was described as “inadequate” by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Oct 26, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry

Nicole Smallman, 27, and Bibaa Henry, 46, were murdered in June 2020 while celebrating Ms Henry’s birthday in Fryent country park, northwest London.

Danyal Hussein, 19, will be sentenced for murder later this week after stabbing the women to fulfil a demonic pact.

Although they had already been killed by the time they were reported missing, delays in the police response meant their bodies were found by Ms Smallman’s boyfriend.

MPS Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said: “The way we responded to information that Nicole and Bibaa were missing was below the standard we should have achieved and compounded the distress felt by their loved ones.”

“I am very sorry that the level of service we provided fell short. We have contacted the family to ask if they will allow me or, if they prefer, another senior officer to visit them at a time that is right to apologise in person.”

No officers are to face disciplinary action as a result of the failings, but the IOPC ruled that an MPS inspector and a civilian staff member must undertake unsatisfactory performance procedures to address and improve their professional capabilities.

A call handler will also receive management action after they referred to a missing person as a ‘suspect’ and appeared dismissive during a call with a friend of one of the sisters. The friend had contacted the MPS for advice after a pair of glasses had been found close to the area where their bodies were subsequently found.

Between the evening of Saturday June 6 and Sunday June 7 family members and friends reported Nicole and Bibaa missing and informed the MPS this was completely out of character for them.

Shortly before 9pm on June 6 the first call was made to the MPS from a friend of Ms Smallman, asking if the police had any information on her whereabouts. At 9pm another friend reported Ms Smallman missing to the MPS, after which a missing person investigation was started. A third call was made at 10.24pm reporting both women missing. Family and friends were advised police would deploy resources to conduct enquiries into their whereabouts.

“However, a decision was taken by the duty inspector to close the police logs, and police resources were not deployed until mid-morning on June 7,” said the IOPC. “We found that the duty inspector’s decision was influenced by information from a family member regarding Ms Henry’s believed whereabouts, which was recorded on a police log by a civilian staff member working in the force control room. The information provided was not accurately recorded by the civilian staff member. Following on from the decision to close the police logs, the staff member did not update family members that police were no longer attending Ms Smallman’s home to carry out a room search.”

A search by the sisters’ families and friends of the last known location where the sisters were together, led to the discovery of their bodies at 1.18pm on June 7 in Fryent Country Park.

The IOPC established that the duty inspector did not progress the missing person report for Ms Smallman and did not allocate actions to officers during the evening of June 6.

A missing person report was not created in respect of Ms Henry until June 7, even though she was classified as missing on the police log. This prevented action being taken to find her, which was a breach of the MPS’ missing person policy.

The IOPC investigation also found there was confusion around who had responsibility and oversight of the missing persons investigation between the initial risk assessment and when the next assessment would have been due 24 hours later. This led to inadequate record keeping on the missing persons report, which hampered officers beginning their shift on June 7.

The IOPC explored whether the police response to reports the sisters were missing was affected by their ethnicity or where they lived. While failings were identified in the handling of the missing persons reports in this case, the evidence did not indicate that this was a result of stereotyping or biased assumptions based on the sisters’ race.

Regional Director for London Sal Naseem said: “Once again my thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. Their deaths caused unimaginable heartache, loss and grief, feelings which were heightened by the inadequate service the family and friends received from the Metropolitan Police when reporting the sisters missing.

“Had the MPS focused on progressing the missing persons investigation it may have prevented the further distress caused to Nicole and Bibaa’s loved ones, who made the harrowing discovery after organising their own search party.

“As well as identifying three individuals whose performance fell below the standards expected of them, this investigation also identified failings in the service provided, for which we have now advised the MPS to apologise to the family. It is vital that the force addresses these shortcomings and effects long-lasting change and improvement to help restore public confidence in the MPS.”

The IOPC has further recommended that the MPS reviews the processes and separate systems used by call handlers, and considers whether further training ought to be provided to ensure all terminology is correctly understood.

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