A coroner has ruled that more could have been done to search for a beloved mum and grandmother with severe depression, who was found dead after being missing for two days.
Zeyna Partington, 55, had suffered with severe depression and anxiety for several years before being reported missing on August 8, 2019.
Tragically, she was found dead two days later having overdosed on prescription medication.
An inquest into the mother-of-one’s death at Rochdale Coroners Court heard that Zeyna’s case had been mis-categorised as a ‘medium risk missing person’.
Instead, the coroner ruled that Zeyna should have been given ‘high risk missing person’ status, as the force was aware of previous occasions she had gone missing, ‘and that she had been found in locations where the clear indication was she was placing her life in some danger’.
The marker placed on her car was also given a ‘low’ grade instead of a ‘medium’ grade, said the coroner.
Had the grandmother-of-two been classed as high risk and a medium marker put on her car, there would have been ‘other options’ available to police that might have helped to trace her, heard the court.
Zeyna, from Chadderton, Oldham, had a history of serious mental health concerns, believed by her family to have been made worse at around the age of 50.
From 2014 to 2017, Zeyna went through a particularly difficult number of years where she was seeking treatment with her GP and through mental health teams.
Still, daughter Danielle Lees told the court that she enjoyed a close relationship with her mum, who she described as ‘family-oriented’, ‘the life and soul of the party’ and their very own ‘dancing queen’.
By 2017, the inquest was told that Zeyna appeared to be showing signs of improvement. Danielle said her mum was ‘doing really well’ and had started to collect her grandchildren from school and venturing out of the house more.
But she seemed to ‘relapse’ into some of her more concerning symptoms by July 2019.
Danielle had gone to pick up her mum at her home at 12.30pm on August 8, 2019, she found her car was not outside.
Danielle said she tried to ring her mum’s phone, but she did not answer.
“If my mum did not answer, she would ring me back quite quickly. I knew something was not right.”
At 1.34pm, Danielle reported her mum missing to Greater Manchester Police, giving details of the car Zeyna was thought to be in at the time.
The information found on police logs also made reference to the fact that Zeyna ‘had a history of attempting suicide around 2016’ and that she was found ‘attempting her life’.
The inquest heard from Zahid Latif, who was a sergeant based at Oldham police station on the day Zeyna was reported missing.
He told the hearing that Zeyna was deemed ‘medium risk missing person’ as there was ‘no suggestion she was at immediate risk of serious harm’.
He admitted that he was not aware of the previous occasions when Zeyna had gone missing.
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The inquest heard that a police officer then visited Zeyna’s home at 4.30pm – three hours after she had been reported missing – but failed to conduct a full search of the house.
When another officer was sent to carry out the search the following day, a note from was found inside a drawer, believed to be written by Zeyna.
In it, she said she was ‘sorry to everyone’.
It was only at this point that she was upgraded to ‘high risk missing person’ status.
Had Zeyna been ranked higher to begin with, strategies such as tracing her phone and bank cards, which might have been able to pinpoint her location would have been available to police.
Though the coroner noted that this would not have changed officers’ approach in this case, as Zeyna had left both at her home.
As part of the search for Zeyna, a marker was placed on her car on the police national computer (PNC) – meaning that should the vehicle trigger a hit within the GMP area then the force would be aware. If the vehicle triggered a camera in another area of the country, then that local force would be contacted.
The marker (known as an ACT marker) on Zeyna’s car was ranked low, in comparison the medium and high levels of marker available to the police, heard the court.
As the marker was rated low, details of the case would be put out over police radio so officers would be able to keep it in mind while out on other business.
If the marker had been medium, and the vehicle had passed a camera, ‘resources would be allocated to the location to do a search of the area’.
Mrs Partington’s car was twice picked up by ANPR cameras on the A58 in Rochdale – once at 10.15 and a second time at 10.50am on August 8, the court was told.
Her car was then picked up on an ANPR camera at 4.36pm in Chunal Lane, Glossop.
It was not until August 10 that GMP officers searched for hits on Zeyna’s vehicle outside of their own force area, discovering that she had been sighted in Glossop on a camera.
Inspector Trevor Eaton reviewed the incident on behalf of GMP’s Professional Standards Branch and said that, given the suicidal information available, the marker level should have been graded medium.
“There is no evidence from any of the witnesses that they had any knowledge or understanding of the differing PNC ACT levels and the implications of the differing levels”, added the coroner.
“It wasn’t until the 10th August at 1.59pm that GMP officers conducted a national search for the vehicle covering the timeframe from the 8th August 2019.
“When they did, this produced the hit in Derbyshire and an email was sent to Derbyshire Constabulary at 2.22pm, requesting them to undertake two actions i) check an address in Derby ii) drive the A624 towards Buxton to check any lay-bys, car parks and beauty spots.”
Officers from Derbyshire Police tragically found Mrs Partington’s body lying next to a tree in woodland off Chunal Lane at 8.10pm on August 10.
At 11.30pm that evening, Mrs Partington’s family received the devastating news that her body had been found.
Pathologist Dr Charan said a post-mortem examination had given Zeyna’s cause of death as ‘toxicity’ from prescription drugs after she had taken an excess of her medication.
Coroner Joanne Kearsley told the court ‘it is a matter of fact that Zeyna should have been deemed a high risk missing person by GMP’, saying: “GMP knew or ought to have known of a real and immediate risk to the life of Mrs Partington on the 8th August 2019.
“Having carefully considered this evidence I am satisfied that there on the 8th August 2019 the ACT marker placed on Mrs Partington’s vehicle should have been a medium ACT marker.
“If this had occurred then on the 8th August 2019 at 4.36pm when her vehicle hit the ANPR camera on the A624 Chunal, Derbyshire Constabulary would have notified GMP and also would have allocated officers to the area to look for Mrs Partington’s vehicle.”
Zeyna’s death was concluded to be a suicide on Tuesday, May 25.
Addressing the family and GMP, the coroner said: “I am sure that no matter what I say you will always wonder if you or the police could have found your mum in time to save her.
“Whilst I have significant concerns about aspects of the investigation to find your mum, I am unable to state that any action probably or even possibly might have meant she was found alive.
“I do say this to the police – my decision has required some very careful consideration of the evidence and this case more than ever highlights the importance of timely actions in missing persons investigations.”
The coroner also served a Preventing Future Deaths report – known as a Regulation 28 notice – which requires Greater Manchester Police to respond within 56 days to say what action it plans to take around the car marker and ANPR systems.