Police officers who failed to find a seriously injured man after a road crash have been criticised by inspectors.
Norfolk Police were called to reports of a crashed vehicle on the A47 near Wisbech in July last year but despite two searches, officers failed to locate the owner of the car.
A 54-year-old man was found in a ditch and in a serious condition by a member of the public several hours later.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said the officers could have conducted a more thorough search.
It is thought the man lay injured in the ditch for up to five hours before he was eventually found and taken for medical treatment.
IPCC commissioner Sarah Green said: “While there are no specific policies or training for police officers regarding the physical search of a given area in these circumstances, I think the officers should have spent more time and care carrying out searches at the scene.
“The medical evidence indicates the injured man must have been in the ditch, close to the car, at the time the police officers were there, and the officers’ failure to find him meant that valuable time was lost before he received medical attention.”
The damaged dark blue Peugeot was reported at about 11.20am on July 8. Police attended and established the identity of the car’s owner and visited the registered address but could not find him.
Two officers searched the area around the car and, when they failed to find the man, attached “authorities aware” stickers to the car.
At about 4.30pm, members of the public called an ambulance after finding the man in a nearby ditch. He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn with life threatening injuries.
It was later found he had serious injuries to his chest and pelvis, meaning it was unlikely he had moved to the ditch after the police search.
The man, who has not been named, survived but is still recovering from his injuries.
The IPCC said the officers’ failure did not amount to a criminal offence or misconduct but that action should be taken to prevent future failures.
The investigation also found a control room operator breached the Data Protection Act by inappropriately disclosing sensitive information in a telephone call with a member of the injured man’s family, soon after the accident.
Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Hall, from Norfolk Police, said the force fell short of its expected standards on this occasion.
He said: “While the report acknowledges some of the unique challenges faced by the officers at the scene of this incident, we can only apologise to the victim and his family for the distress caused by their failure to discover him hidden at an earlier opportunity and, later, for the unintentional indiscretion of the control room operator.
“Management action was taken against the two officers to address the performance issues highlighted.
“Lessons learned from the failings identified by the IPCC will be applied to further improve the service we deliver.”