The heartbroken daughter of a Scots army veteran has hit out at Police Scotland after they failed to notify the family of his sudden death five months earlier.
Stacey Pickles, who lives in Lancashire, received a letter in February stating that someone had made a claim against dad Gerard McNulty’s pension after he had passed away.
The 55-year-old, who suffered from PTSD and alcohol dependency issues after his time in the armed forces, was known to lose contact with loved ones for extended periods of time.
But when his eldest daughter received the alarming letter, the family began making enquiries and discovered he had sadly passed away at his Wishaw home in September 2020.
The family’s grief was worsened when they were told that someone else, who was not known to the family, had been wrongly identified as Gerard’s next-of-kin.
The woman, who we have chosen not to name, also failed to inform his family and had Gerard cremated before leaving the funeral bill unpaid.
As a result, his grieving loved ones were not entitled to collect his ashes which had sat at the funeral directors due to the outstanding funeral balance.
Stacey, 35, told how the family’s contact details were already registered on the Police Scotland system as they had previously requested a welfare check in February last year.
The force has since admitted that officers failed to carry out sufficient enquiries to find the dad-of-two’s blood relatives meaning they were kept in the dark.
She said: “Families are complicated and unfortunately my dad had an issue with alcohol as a result of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which he got from his time in the army.
“It was something he’d always had and tried to deal with but it got massively worse when he moved back to Scotland from Lancashire in 2005.
“It meant he was quite hard to keep track of. He became less and less sober and he moved around quite a lot. He’d lose a phone, you’d get a number for him but then he’d lose it again.
“He would always make attempts to get back in touch and give us his new number though.
“That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t have a clue he had died because it wasn’t out of the norm for him to disappear for a while.
“I got a letter in February 2021 from a company that was handling his army pension, saying that an outstanding claim had been made for him as a deceased person.
“I didn’t know what to make of it so I called our uncle, who lives in New Stevenston, to find out if something had happened.
“My sister Kirsty decided to ring the police to ask for a welfare check which is something she had done before. She did it at the beginning of February 2020.
“They said they would try to help but it was the weekend so they might not be able to. But they said they would call us back so we sat and waited for a phone call which never came.”
Stacey contacted the Motherwell registration office when it opened on the Monday and was horrified to discover her dad had passed away on September 14 last year.
A woman, whose name was not familiar to the family, was listed on the death certificate which immediately set off alarm bells.
Civil servant Stacey explained: “The registrar said that because it had been a sudden death, it had gone to the Procurator Fiscal’s office who would come back to them when they had an official cause of death because they were still waiting for toxicology results.
“I then had to ring around a number of funeral directors to try and find the one that did the ceremony.
“The woman who was named on the death certificate had arranged the funeral but had abandoned the payment for it. This meant his ashes were still at the funeral directors.
“This left us with a problem because this woman had made the application for the cremation, it meant we weren’t legally entitled to any of the ashes.
“The Procurator Fiscal came back to us and said that it was Police Scotland who had given the next of kin details to them and that they’d need to verify my ID as being dad’s next of kin before they could speak to me.
“I started to look at what the procedure is for sudden deaths in Scotland and what happens with notifying the family.
“That’s when I started to get a bit concerned that they had identified this woman instead of us.
“I submitted a complaint but it took Police Scotland a month to come back to me.
“As far as we’re concerned, she should never have been identified as his next of kin, his body shouldn’t have been released to her and the officers should have looked for one of us.
“They said they tried to contact my uncle – who lives two miles away – but that they couldn’t find him, which we strongly disbelieve.
“They have since upheld my complaint and said that the officer investigating it didn’t do sufficient enquiries and that they still had my sister’s details – her telephone number, address and full name – from the welfare check she did in February 2020.
“They could have contacted us but they didn’t. They chose to take this woman’s word as gospel instead.”
The family continued to make their own enquiries into the circumstances surrounding the Royal Corps of Transport veteran’s death and were forced to get most of the information from a post mortem report.
They then found that a new bank card in his name had been requested three days after he died before almost £1000 was taken from his account.
Stacey added: “On top of everything that was going on with the police, I then started to look at what needed to be done.
“I found out that the funeral bill hadn’t been paid and had to deal with the pension company to tell them that whoever had made a claim was not the next of kin or a relative.
“I was miles away and we were in the middle of Covid. I could have travelled up to Scotland but by that point six months had passed.
“His property was gone, his possessions were gone, all of his paperwork was gone.
“I had to ring round every single banking institution that I could think of to try and identify which was his.
“When I eventually got his bank statements back, I noticed that after his death somebody had started taking money out of his bank account. Almost £1000 had gone.
“It turns out that somebody had called and impersonated him three days after he had died, requested a new bank card to his address and then had taken that card from the house and gone and taken the money.
“This would not have happened if Police Scotland had contacted us because the person who gained access to his house wouldn’t have been able to do so.
“Because of their actions, we’ve lost all of his personal effects, there’s an ongoing investigation into the bank account, we’ve paid for a funeral that we didn’t get to attend or even know about.
“And to make matters worse, this woman has decided she wanted to keep part of my dad’s ashes so there’s a bit of him missing now and we’ll never know where it is.
“I wrote back to Police Scotland and said I appreciated them upholding my complaint but that they had caused us a massive upset to my sister, my uncle and myself.
“I asked them to make an offer of compensation so we could do something for dad to remember him.
“But they came back with an offer of £1000. It’s disgraceful. My dad is worth more than that. I told them I wasn’t interested and that it was insulting.
“When I spoke to one of the officers who is dealing with the bank fraud, he told me he had been out to see my dad previously and that he had associated with ‘undesirables’.
“It seems to me like they’ve just accepted that my dad had a problem and there was a woman there that they couldn’t verify but who is going to care?
“I think that’s the thing that really upset me. They’ve just thought nobody cared about him but that’s not true. We may not have been the closest but he was still my dad.”
She added: “I know I could go to a lawyer about this but it’s not going to bring us any closure. I just want people to know how badly Police Scotland failed my dad.
“He’s even listed as a police officer on his death certificate because he was a special constable with Lancashire Police.
“So they had made the assumption that he was one of their own, because that’s what this woman told them, and yet they still treated him like this.
“But that wasn’t his actual job. He had always been in warehouse operations for a number of supermarkets and as a manager in distribution centres.
“When he went to Scotland, he stopped working after the stress of divorce kind of got on top of him at that point.
“To top it all off, Police Scotland then sent me a text the other day asking me to rate their service.”
In a letter to the family, Chief Inspector Gillian Norrie confirmed: “Taking the aforementioned information into consideration, I have concluded that Police Scotland did in fact hold contact details of a family member next of kin and further enquiry should have been carried out by the reporting officer to trace that person.
“As such your complaint is upheld.”
A second complaint about the lack of communication from the force with Stacey and her family was also upheld after an investigation.
When contacted by the Daily Record, Police Scotland declined to comment but said that enquiries into the alleged bank fraud remain ongoing.
Don’t miss the latest news from around Scotland and beyond – Sign up to our daily newsletter here .