Could Uckfield woman’s life have been saved?

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AN ELDERLY woman whose body was found in a ditch on Saturday could possibly have been saved if searches had been conducted more thoroughly, Uckfield residents say.

After Uckfield deputy mayor Cllr Duncan Bennett posted concerns on his Facebook site, more than 40 people added their own comments. They criticise police and hospital workers for failing to find her and wonder whether her life could have been saved if prompt action had been taken.

Maureen Read, 77 suffered from dementia and was a patient in the Beechwood Unit at Uckfield Community Hospital. She went missing from the hospital just after 6pm on Friday, July 13.

Police say officers, hospital staff and local people including Neighbourhood Watch volunteers and Sussex Search and Rescue (SSAR) searched through the night and all morning. Her disappearance was noticed minutes after she had last been seen. Maureen had suffered from dementia but was able to walk.

But Cllr Bennett who lives in Framfield Road told the Express: “Her body was finally found just a few hundred metres away from the hospital. I was out walking on Saturday and I met a few people who said they had seen a couple of police officers but no-one had mentioned to them that Maureen was missing. I was told police used special infra-red detection devices but quite honestly, an officer and a police dog could have found her quite easily. As for Neighbourhood Watch – I was unaware we had a Neighbourhood Watch group anywhere near. They were not visible to me that night. It seems incredible that an elderly lady could be missing for the best part of a day and a night and not be found, although she was only a short distance from the hospital.

“We were all dreadfully sad to hear that Maureen had died and our sympathy extends to her family.”

A spokesman for the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (the branch of the health authority which runs the Beechwood Unit) said: “We extend our sympathies to Mrs Read’s family at this sad time. We have begun an internal investigation into how she came to be able to leave the unit. Trust staff who were providing her care have been deeply affected by what happened and they were involved in the search for Mrs Read during Friday night and Saturday morning. We are continuing to work closely with Sussex Police and the Coroner’s Office.”

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “A thorough and intensive search was undertaken by police, hospital staff and local people including Neighbourhood Watch and Sussex Search and Rescue (SSAR) volunteers as soon as 77-year-old Maureen Read was reported missing. This went through the night and into the following morning when she was discovered.

“The extreme weather conditions meant that it was not safe for the police helicopter to be deployed, but all resources that were available – including police officers, police community support officers and the Force’s specialist search team, as well as volunteers – were diligent and committed in their search.

“The discovery of Maureen in a waterway at the rear of Uckfield Community Hospital was a tragic outcome, but the many people who helped look for her – in very bad weather and often difficult to access areas – did so to the very best of their ability and should be thanked wholeheartedly for their hard work.”