Northern Ireland

James Fenton inquest: Police actions 'inexplicable'

James Fenton Image copyright Fenton family
Image caption The coroner ruled the cause of James Fenton's death was unascertainable

A coroner has criticised police for a failed search to find a man who died in the grounds of a hospital after leaving a mental health ward.

He said officers' actions in the case of James Fenton were "inexplicable, inexcusable and deeply unsatisfactory".

The coroner ruled the cause of death was unascertainable due to the advanced decomposition of Mr Fenton's body.

He agreed to be admitted to the Ulster Hospital in July 2010 but later climbed over the wall of a smoking area.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has "wholeheartedly" apologised to the Fenton family for "the police failings" in the case.

Officers disciplined

A police search failed to find Mr Fenton and his body was discovered 10 weeks later in the grounds of the hospital in Dundonald, on the outskirts of east Belfast.

In 2013, the Police Ombudsman issued a critical report into the search for Mr Fenton and 12 PSNI officers were disciplined.

The inquest into his death began on Monday and heard evidence from police, medical experts, hospital staff and the Fenton family.

The coroner said that if a police search dog had been used the 22-year-old man might have been found in time.

Speaking on behalf of the PSNI, Supt Sean Wright said he noted the findings of the coroner and his comments in respect of the police investigation.

"We would wish to assure the public that the coroner did acknowledge the PSNI's policy around dealing with missing people is now fit for purpose and that our procedures have improved," he added.