Discipline charges for police over missing teenager

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The Independent Online

Twelve officers are to be charged with disciplinary offences after they were accused of ignoring an Asian woman's appeal to help trace her missing son, who was found dead in a lake 10 days later.

Nighat Mahmood and her husband, Arshad, made nine visits to her local police station in Accrington, Lancashire, to ask for help in finding their son Sajjad Mahmood, 18.

As well as the charges of neglect of duty against a dozen officers from Lancashire police a further six officers have already been given a verbal warning.

Mrs Mahmood became concerned when her son failed to return home after a Saturday night out in March 1998. That concern turned to panic when she was told by her son's friend that Sajjad had been beaten by three drug dealers and dumped in a reservoir. About 30 officers dealt with their requests and were provided with the names of the reservoir and the three men believed to have been responsible for abducting the Mahmoods' son.

Ten days after Sajjad's disappearance was reported the police sent divers into Hagg's Lodge, a former mill pond on the outskirts of the town, where her son was supposed to have been dumped. Within hours of searching on 1 April 1998 the police found the badly beaten body of the missing teenager. A post-mortem examination was unable to establish an exact cause of death because the body had been immersed for so long.

The three men named by the parents were later arrested and charged. One was jailed for 10 years for manslaughter and drug offences and the other two received six-year prison sentences for causing grievous bodily harm with intent and drug offences.

After an inquiry by Greater Manchester Police into the case the Police Complaints Authority announced yesterday that 12 officers from Lancashire Constabulary should face disciplinary charges.

The officers will face charges that they neglected their duty. In addition one officer will also face a charge of falsehood and prevarication and another officer will face a charge of incivility. If found guilty of the charges the penalties range from a reprimand to dismissal. Six other officers have already been disciplined by way of "formal advice" – a verbal ticking off.

The affair has shattered the Mahmood family, who are bitter about their treatment and believe vital evidence may have been missed because of the failure to act quickly.

Sajjad left his parents' house shortly after 8pm on Saturday 21 March 1998 and walked to a property rented by James Butler, 21, who with Karl Barton, 22, and Wayne Kelly, 23, used the premises to sell amphetamines and cannabis. He had apparently gone to apologise for an earlier alcohol-fuelled wrecking spree.

At his trial in April 1999, Butler told the jury at Preston Crown Court that he used CS spray on Sajjad. He said Barton kicked Sajjad in the stomach, and Kelly hit him with a steel torch.

The teenager was then forced to walk to the reservoir. The three men claim they then forced their victim into the water – rather than throwing him in while unconscious. All three had denied murder but the original trial was halted when Butler pleaded guilty to manslaughter.