A mum died hours after police put her to bed mistakenly believing she was drunk, an inquest heard.
South Yorkshire Police has now been urged by a coroner to teach its officers about the little-known condition which Shirley Farmer was suffering from in the lead up to her death from pneumonia.
An internal investigation has been launched following the death of the 48-year-old from Thurnscoe after tests revealed she had no alcohol in her system. Her family accused police of treating her like a stereotype.
The hearing heard Mrs Farmer dialled 999 in the early hours claiming the father of her child was trying to break into her home in Kingsway.
However, she ‘sounded intoxicated’ and made little sense so two officers dispatched put Mrs Farmer to bed, the court was told.
A concerned friend found her collapsed on the bedroom floor at around 7.30am. She was pronounced dead just minutes later, the hearing heard.
Speaking after the inquest Mrs Farmer’s son Michael Atwal-Brice told the Times: “We still feel the police did not carry out their duties properly and would like to listen to the 999 recording of my mother’s call. The police representative today didn’t seem to know the case too well. We would have liked to question the officers who dealt with my mother.
“We still don’t understand why they didn’t call an ambulance. Mum’s breathing can’t have been right.”
He added his mum would not have complained about her illness and a chest X-ray weeks before her death was clear.
The hearing in Sheffield heard Mrs Farmer had a history of alcoholism. On November 29 last year she called police for more than seven minutes.
The officers dispatched had to bang on her door and windows for some time before she let them in.
Acting Det Sgt Matthew Penn of Barnsley CID said his colleagues found no evidence of a crime and struggled to establish why she called.
They spent some time talking to Mrs Farmer before putting her to bed, locking the door and posting the key through the letter box, he added.
Det Sgt Penn said this was not standard practice, but added: “If officers had not thought it safe to leave her they would not have done so. It is down to officers and individual circumstances as to whether they contact next of kin.
“They didn’t call an ambulance so I can only presume they thought she didn’t need one.”
Mrs Farmer’s daughter Kelly Hall told the inquest: “Surely the police would smell alcohol on her if she was drunk. Or were they used to Shirley being drunk and so just presumed she was?
“It seems she was treated as a stereotype rather than an individual. She had not been drinking that week because she was not well enough.”
Dr Melanie Levy, consultant histopathologist, said Mrs Farmer was suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a condition usually found in alcoholics which is caused by a vitamin deficiency and impairs judgement.
She added Mrs Farmer was suffering from acute pneumonia affecting most of her right lung, Dr Levy researched the condition of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome because of the unusual nature of Mrs Farmer’s case.
Mrs Farmer would have been short of breath presumably, said Dr Levy, but she added: “Symptoms are very individual.”
Ms Slater recorded a verdict of natural causes.
She added: “The symptoms displayed were of illness but would be interpreted as intoxicated. Officers would make a judgement call.
“It is not realistic to have a standard policy.”
Ms Slater asked the force to create a ‘learning opportunity’ for officers regarding Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
She added: “If in doubt about a condition then they should seek medical help.”
A spokesman for the Independent Police Complaints Commission said afterwards that it was aware of Mrs Farmer’s death but the matter had been referred back to South Yorkshire Police to deal with internally.
South Yorkshire Police was unavailable for comment.