Mum warns of 'postcode lottery' in unexplained death probes

Stephanie Bonner told how family members were forced to carry out their own investigations following the death of son Rhys.

Mum of Rhys Bonner warns over Police Scotland ‘postcode lottery’ in unexplained death probes STV News

The mother of a teenager found dead on disused land near Glasgow has warned that families of missing people face a “postcode lottery” over the way unexplained deaths are treated.

Stephanie Bonner laid flowers at the wrong location after police gave her incorrect coordinates as to where the body of son Rhys was discovered in August 2019.

The 19-year-old’s death was treated as “unascertained” and no criminality was established, despite officers spending just one working day on the case.

Giving evidence at the Scottish Government’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee, Stephanie said Rhys’ family had to carry out door-to-door enquiries themselves, adding that any queries she had about the probe were met with a “wall of silence”.

She has now called for officers to show “more empathy” towards families who have lost loved ones, branding the toll the probe took on her as “soul destroying”.

“Postcode policing has to be addressed,” she told the committee.

“Police have at least two different sets of coordinates of where Rhys’ body was found.

“I went to lay flowers at one I was given only to be told by local people that I was in the wrong location. I wanted to see where my son died, where he took his last breath.

“When a body is initially discovered and the police didn’t know a cause of death, a reasonable level of evidence should be secured if they are no obvious signs of criminality.

“This way the police can go back after toxicology and pathology findings are available.”

She added: “The basics like door-to-door enquires should never have been missed.

“The window of time between when a body is discovered and a theory is formed and a decision is made must be looked at and improved.

“It’s better to gather evidence and not use it than have none and lose it.”

Rhys’ body was found on a patch of waste ground between Easterhouse and Gartloch Village on August 8 – 15 days after he went missing having told his mother he was going to McDonald’s.

He was discovered half-naked, with items of clothing strewn nearby.

CCTV footage later revealed officers dragging Rhys across open land in broad daylight with some people filming on mobile phones nearby.

The case was closed on August 12, four days after the discovery, but just one working day later.

Stephanie added the family was never given a police liaison officer to keep them up to date with the progress of the missing person’s enquiry, adding they received just one phone call every two days from investigating officers.

A review by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) found four of 26 claims made by Rhys’ family were upheld, including expecting relatives to “carry out their own enquiries”.

“The investigation was closed before Rhys was formally identified,” Stephanie told the panel.

“I believe that postcodes play a significant factor and what’s going on at the time

“I will never know for certain what happened or be able to prove what happened. This is the conclusion I have to live with every second. This is what happens when death is unexplained and not fully investigated.

“The impact of an unexplained death on families is soul destroying.”

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code