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Police downgraded request to find boy who told call handler he was ‘about to kill myself’

Police downgraded the priority of an urgent request to find boy, 17, who told a call handler he was going to ‘kill’ himself in a heartbreaking phone call, an inquest heard. 

Matthew Mackell, from Tunbridge Wells, was found dead in the early hours of May 7 last year in Dunorlan Park, nearby his home on Sandhurst Road.

His tragic final phone calls with a BT phone operator and police call handlers have been revealed during the first day of an inquest at County Hall in Maidstone.

The ‘well-liked’ maths student had told a phone operator just hours before he was found dead that he was ‘about to kill’ himself and to ‘send someone’ to pick him up.

Matthew Mackell (pictured), from Tunbridge Wells, was found dead in the early hours of May 7 last year in Dunorlan Park, nearby his home in Sandhurst Road

But Kent Police downgraded the priority of his calls from ‘immediate action’ to ‘high’ importance, and has been subject to an investigation by the Independent Office of Police Conduct for its  response.

It was also revealed during the inquest that Matthew left a birthday card with ‘sorry’ on it and a message on the screensaver of his phone for his family. 

Matthew’s father Michael Bond gave evidence at the hearing, saying that his son was doing ‘very well indeed’ at his school, Skinners’ Academy, where he was ‘very liked’. 

He added that he was unaware of the extent of Matthew’s struggles, saying that although he experienced ‘quiet days where he went to his room’, the teenager also seemed ‘very happy’.

Mr Bond also said Matthew and his older brother Christopher, 18, had a ‘heated argument’ on the afternoon before his death, describing it was ‘unusual’ for the pair. 

He told the court: ‘It did upset him a lot and he looked upset when he went past me to his bedroom. I asked if he was alright and he said he was fine.

‘He looked like he needed a bit of time on his own.’ 

Mr Bond also told of how he found the birthday card, which he had given to Matthew three weeks earlier, with ‘sorry’ on it ‘the morning the police officers turned up and told me my son was deceased’.

The maths student, 17, (pictured) had told a BT call handler just hours before he was found dead that he was 'about to kill' himself and to 'send someone' to pick him up

The maths student, 17, (pictured) had told a BT call handler just hours before he was found dead that he was ‘about to kill’ himself and to ‘send someone’ to pick him up

Matthew had also left a message for his family as his phone screensaver, which had been found with his body. It read: ‘Hi. You found me.

‘Tell my family I love them and to be there for each other. I’m struggling through life.’ 

Matthew, who would have celebrated his 18th birthday last month, told his father at around 10pm on May 6 that he wanted to ‘pop out for a bit’, which was not unusual for the boy during lockdown.

At 10.16pm, Matthew had called 999 and spoken to a BT phone operator, saying: ‘I don’t know how to say this. Can you send someone to pick me up? I’m about to kill myself.’ 

The call was then relayed to a police call handler, who called Matthew back. 

The teenager told PSE Amy Hopper he was ‘fine’ amid prolonged silences and also hung up the phone multiple times.

PSE Elliot Gregson, the telephone team leader in the police control room, also phoned Matthew and offered help.  

Matthew asked ‘what do you mean help me?’ in-between prolonged silences before yet again hanging up.

During the inquest, PSE Gregson said he escalated the incident as ‘immediate action required’ and transferred it to the dispatch team, which is based within the same control room in Maidstone.

He recorded that Matthew was ‘likely to be in Dunorlan Park’ based on the coordinates provided by the phone provider.

PSE Gregson also told the inquest that he ‘fully expected’ a patrol would be sent out to search for the teenager.

But the case was instead downgraded to ‘high’ importance from ‘immediate action’ by the dispatch team, who said this was because they didn’t have an exact location for Matthew in Dunorlan Park.

Matthew’s father had shown a video of the park to the court earlier in the hearing, depicting where his son had been found next to the main pathway, which was near the car park at the entrance.

But his calls were downgraded by the dispatch team due to not having an exact location for Matthew in Dunorlan Park. Pictured: Tributes for Matthew left in the park

But his calls were downgraded by the dispatch team due to not having an exact location for Matthew in Dunorlan Park. Pictured: Tributes for Matthew left in the park

An emotional Mr Bond said: ‘This is where Matthew went to sleep.

‘And that [pointing to the path] is where they would have been if they had come down to look for Matthew.’

Several police officers testified to it being a ‘busy night’ but Michael Spencer, counsel for the family, pointed to evidence that patrol teams were available at the time of the calls.

‘Enhanced mapping service’ was also available to police call handlers and the dispatch team on the night of May 6, which would have pinpointed Matthew’s location within a ten metre range with confidence of 95 per cent, the court heard. 

But the Force Incident Manager and the telephone team leader who were on shift at the time claimed they were unaware that the technology existed. 

In light of the incident, Kent Police has since said that it uses the technology by ‘default’, so that it doesn’t have to be requested.

After the first day of the inquest came to a close, it still remained unclear why the patrol teams were not sent to Dunorlan Park. 

The dispatch team leader, PSE Underwood, and the dispatch team member who downgraded the call, PSE Blackwell, are set to give evidence at further hearings next week.

The inquest continues. 

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.


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