Police watchdog to investigate 'botched' search for missing swimmer Ellis Downes

Image source, Downes family
Image caption,
Ellis Downes disappeared under the water while playing with friends in Culham

Thames Valley Police has referred itself to the police watchdog, the IPCC, over the "botched" operation to find the body of missing Ellis Downes.

The 16-year-old disappeared while playing in the River Thames at Culham, Oxfordshire, on Saturday evening.

A private dive team, which found the body, and Ellis's family have criticised police for initially stopping them from searching the water.

Thames Valley Police said it was aware of family concerns over its actions.

It said it expected a response from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on how it wished the investigation to be managed.

Private dive company Specialist Group International discovered the body on Monday evening after answering a Facebook appeal from Ellis's family.

Its chief executive Peter Faulding branded the police's obstruction of his team "disgusting".

Ellis's father Darren also criticised the police for not allowing the search to take place, and an online petition called for an inquiry.

Announcing the IPCC referral, Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Ross said the force was "aware of the family and community concerns around our actions following this tragic incident".

Media caption,
Private dive firm boss Peter Faulding branded the police's obstruction of his team "disgusting"

Earlier, Mr Faulding, whose team found the body soon after entering the water at 23:00 BST on Monday - despite arriving at about 16:00 BST - said he had "never seen such a botched operation" in his career after they were initially barred from searching by police.

He said: "We just wanted to recover poor Ellis's body, because it was a very stressful time for these people; they were grieving, and there were probably 100 people there."

His team was registered with the national crime agency database and authorised to carry out police dive work, he added.

Thames Valley Police axed its specialist search and recovery team, which carried out underwater operations, as a result of budget cuts in 2014.

About 20 people have supported the call on Facebook for an inquiry and a Justgiving page has so far raised £3,102 for Ellis's family.

Image source, Peter Faulding
Image caption,
Divers found the body on Monday night

Lewis Brown donated money and posted: "I do love you Ellis, you are a great cousin and you are a great friend."

On Facebook tributes were left by friends and family, including Paul Parlett, who called Ellis "an amazing lad" and Fiona Brennan-Scott, who said he was "friendly" and "big-hearted".

A Thames Valley Police spokeswoman said formal identification had not yet taken place, but that the body was believed to be that of Ellis, from Harwell, near Didcot.

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