Lee Bowman: Missing man's body found in Rotherham after two months, while police thought he was still alive

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Coroner takes action after body of missing man who police thought was still alive was found

A missing man was found lodged between two fence panels in a South Yorkshire village - two months after he was reported missing.

Now police say they will review their procedures following criticism from a coroner over the way they handled the search for dad-of-two Lee Bowman, aged 44 and from Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, after an inquest heard that police assumed he was still alive and "drunk somewhere".

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Mr Bowman's family told The Star last year they believed he died soon after going missing and his body could have been found sooner had police done more to look for him.

Concerns have been raised over the police search for Lee Bowman, who was found dead in Rotherham in 2022Concerns have been raised over the police search for Lee Bowman, who was found dead in Rotherham in 2022
Concerns have been raised over the police search for Lee Bowman, who was found dead in Rotherham in 2022 | Bowman family

The BBC reported that assistant coroner Abigail Combes said at an inquest she believed police had been affected by "unconscious bias" due to Mr Bowman's background and assumed he was "missing because he didn't want to be found and was drunk somewhere".

She intends to issue what is known as a Regulation 28 report to the College of Policing, to prevent future deaths, but said it was not possible to know whether Mr Bowman's life could have been saved if he had been found earlier.

He was reported missing on November 2, 2021, to Nottinghamshire Police.

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His body was found in a narrow gap between two fence panels at the end of a garden on Green Arbour Road, Thurcroft, near Rotherham, after the case had been transferred to South Yorkshire Police. He had last been seen visiting his girlfriend near Rotherham, and there were reports of him being seen in the town.

Det Supt Eleanor Welsh, force lead for missing people at South Yorkshire Police, told The Star in a statement: "Our thoughts remain with Mr Bowman’s family and friends following their sad loss.

"Following the discovery of Mr Bowman’s body in early January 2022, we made a referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). The IOPC determined that the force could carry out a local investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

File pictures shows a South Yorkshire Police car. The force says lessons have been learned from the search for Lee Bowman. Photo: David Kessen, National WorldFile pictures shows a South Yorkshire Police car. The force says lessons have been learned from the search for Lee Bowman. Photo: David Kessen, National World
File pictures shows a South Yorkshire Police car. The force says lessons have been learned from the search for Lee Bowman. Photo: David Kessen, National World | National World

"Our Professional Standards Department subsequently carried out an internal investigation, which identified some learning for our organisation around missing people investigations, including around the transfer of missing people investigations between forces, local governance structures, and exploring the veracity of sightings. A report was created and shared across the force, and these learnings are now implemented within teams.

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"We appreciate how distressing it is when a loved one goes missing, and the additional unimaginable heartbreak if they are sadly later found deceased. As a force we remain committed to ensuring all missing person cases are investigated effectively in a bid to locate those who go missing as soon as possible."

The force has also explained reported sightings of Mr Bowman which led to the belief he was still alive.

Det Supt Welsh said both Nottinghamshire Police and South Yorkshire Police received a number of reported sightings of Mr Bowman in the time between him being reported missing at the end of October 2021, and his body tragically being found at the start of January 2022.

She said: "A number of sightings were reported to South Yorkshire Police, including one of note in November, which at the time was believed to be a confirmed sighting of Mr Bowman.

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"Whilst it is not known exactly when Mr Bowman died, we now appreciate the sightings, which were treated as verified, were unlikely to be of Mr Bowman.

"Following an internal investigation, we have reviewed our processes and introduced new practices as to how we verify the accuracy of sightings reported in missing person enquiries.

"Our thoughts remain with Mr Bowman’s family."

Chief Inspector James Walker, of Nottinghamshire Police, said the force's deepest sympathies remained with Mr Bowman’s family and friends.

He added: "After taking a missing person’s report on November 4, 2021, Nottinghamshire Police conducted extensive inquiries and put a significant amount of effort into the investigation.

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"This was a very unusual and difficult case in that there was a high number of sightings of Mr Bowman which were deemed to be reliable and suggested he was alive when tragically he wasn’t.

"Our officer attended the inquest and we are aware the coroner intends to issue a Regulation 28 report to the College of Policing, to prevent future deaths.

"We will follow any subsequent guidance and ensure any lessons learned from the findings of the inquest are fully implemented across Nottinghamshire."

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