Thursday, December 8

What would the Owami Davies case look like if she were a blonde white woman? | dal babu

EITHERWami Davies has reportedly been found safe in Hampshire, which looks like a happy end to this harrowing saga. But while the family undoubtedly got the news they were hoping for, they are still owed answers about how this case was handled. Once again, a black family has had to suffer with grace through the disappearance taken of a loved one and the constant questions about whether the situation would be more seriously were they white.

The police should still be in the spotlight, and there are lessons here that they must learn. One thing is clear: the initial response by Essex police to the report of Davies going missing was not treated with appropriate seriousness. Missing persons reports are graded high, medium and low, and Davies was graded medium. Not unlike the initial report about the missing sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, this clearly should have been a higher priority. As with Davies, we might ask if the response would have been different if the reports had been about missing white, blue-eyed women, rather than black women.

What should have followed was the Essex and Metropolitan police sharing information. In fact, the missing persons inquiry was held by Essex with requests made to the Met to carry out inquiries on its behalf. In my experience, this is a cumbersome process and dependent on who answers the phone or reads the email. We know that Davies was seen by Met police officers in London on 6 July, but they were unaware of who she was. This opportunity to help Davies was horrifically squandered.

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Police know that the first 24 hours of these investigations are crucial. It is well and good to note the thousands of hours of CCTV footage reviewed by officers after the case came under public scrutiny, but what happened when the case was simply one of many concerns will be more revealing. Interestingly, I have seen many criticisms of the Met – probably owing to its visibility and poor reputation – but not of the Essex police about its early decisions.

We need to know exactly what resources were allocated in the first days. Between 6 and 22 July – when the Met took over – was responsibility for the investigation clear? What exactly was the exchange between the Essex and Met police and did they cooperate? Did the massive reduction in police resources and inexperienced officers play a part in the direction of the missing persons inquiry? There should be full transparency here.

There are more painful questions here, too, with answers harder to discern than records of logistics and resources. What process led the Met to issue a photograph of a different black women on 3 August under the assumption it was Davies, and was this lack of professionalism and care attributable to the ethnicity of the missing person?

The Independent Office for Police Conduct has indicated it may investigate Scotland Yard on this matter. Davies’s case shows we need to reform the missing persons process. The easy and upfront part of this is to fix a broken system that relies on the 43 police forces of England and Wales each to upload vulnerable missing persons reports to alert other forces; and to provide better training and resourcing for missing persons cases so that high professional standards are always followed.

But looking at this case, and sadly similar ones over the years, we must also ask harder questions. It is only when families like the Davies can be fully confident their case is handled the same as any other that we can say they are getting justice.

  • Dal Babu is a former chief superintendent in the Metropolitan police

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at [email protected]

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