'I’ve been to hell and back': Mum says she's 'a step closer to justice for Rhys'

'I’ve been to hell and back': Mum says she's 'a step closer to justice for Rhys' <i>(Image: Newsquest, Robert Perry)</i>
'I’ve been to hell and back': Mum says she's 'a step closer to justice for Rhys' (Image: Newsquest, Robert Perry)

A grieving mum says she’s a ‘step closer to justice for her son’ after a watchdog ordered Police Scotland to review how they handled a formal complaint against them.

Brave Stephanie Bonner’s son Rhys, 19, was discovered lifeless in marshland between Easterhouse and Gartloch Village on August 8, 2019.

His death certificate says the cause was 'unascertained' - with Stephanie claiming that she does not know exactly where his body was found.

Police Scotland say the death was fully investigated and declared 'not suspicious', but the family have always claimed they were not satisfied with how their concerns were dealt with.

A Complaint Handling Review report from the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) examined the way in which Police Scotland handled complaints Stephanie made about them.

Pirc found that of the 26 complaints lodged, four were not dealt with by the force to a reasonable standard.

Recommendations include possible evidence being relooked at, new statements being taken from officers and explanations and information being given to the Bonner family.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

The first complaint upheld, and which police have been told to reassess, centred around the family’s claim that Police Scotland furnished them with the wrong coordinates of the location of where Rhys’ remains were found.

The findings noted a typographical error in correspondence that could have led to ‘confusion’ over the noting of the exact location.

Pirc also upheld a complaint that, because Police Scotland’s failure to investigate Rhys’ final movements, the family undertook their own investigation, causing them further ‘anguish and disappointment’.

The watchdog has told police it believes further enquiries are needed to establish what information was uncovered and provided to the family, and if necessary, to seek further accounts from the officers involved.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Stephanie also told Pirc that Police Scotland provided her and another family member with a map of where her son’s remains were recovered and expected them to find the location themselves.

This was denied by police, but they have been told that if that is the case, to now probe how the map then came into the grieving mum’s possession.

She also complained to the watchdog that requests made to Police Scotland to arrange a site visit for her family to establish the exact location of where Rhys’ remains were discovered, and to explain the contradictions and address the anomalies surrounding his death, have never been facilitated.

Pirc have told police to look again at how this request was handled.

The 66-page document, which the Glasgow Times has reviewed, tells the police they now have two months to act on the recommendations.

The report states: “Consequently, we have made four recommendations designed to address the shortcomings in Police Scotland’s handling of those complaints.

"Please be assured that we will be liaising with the Professional Standards Department to ensure that these recommendations are implemented.”

Speaking exclusively to the Glasgow Times, Stephanie said: “I’ve been to hell and back waiting on the findings of the handling of my complaint.

“All I want to know is how and where my boy died.  I still have no closure but I feel the outcome of the report is bringing me one step closer to justice for Rhys.

“I’m delighted with the outcome and that these complaints have been upheld. I hope Police Scotland will take this matter seriously now.

“It’s almost three years to reach this point and I won’t give up fighting until I know exactly what happened to Rhys.  I still don’t know the location of where he died, and no mother should have to go through this. I feel like my heart has been ripped out and I won’t rest until I get the answers my family need.”

Community activist Alex O’Kane lodged the formal complaint to Pirc on Stephanie’s behalf.

He said: “The Bonner family have been through so much and faced a wall of silence, which only served to prolong their agony.

“This is a victory for them and everyone who supported them over the past three years. It will not bring Rhys back, but it will secure answers and a level of accountability.

“Stephanie still isn’t sure of the exact location of where her son’s body was discovered. That is three years of birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries passing and she still can’t lay flowers at the spot where her son was discovered with any certainty.”

Stephanie says her world has been shattered by her son’s passing.

She added: "Rhys had everything to live for and doted on his siblings. He was caring and always happy-go-lucky, a good person. Our lives have been destroyed by his death and I need to keep fighting for his sake.

“I want to thank Alex for all of his incredible help and for giving me the strength to keep on going when all I was hitting were brick walls. He’s been a tower of strength during a very difficult time.”

A spokesman for Pirc said: “We have received an application for a Complaint Handling Review in this case.

"Following careful consideration of the available information, the commissioner issued a CHR report with our findings and conclusions to the family on November 30, 2022.

“We have made a number of recommendations and will liaise with Police Scotland to ensure our recommendations are implemented in full.”

Chief superintendent Mark Sutherland, divisional commander for Greater Glasgow, added: “My sympathies remain with Stephanie Bonner, her family and friends for the distress they have suffered since Rhys’ death in 2019.

“An offer to meet with Stephanie was made following the investigation into her complaints by Police Scotland’s Professional Standards Department and that offer remains open.

“We have received a Complaint Handling Review from the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner which looked at how we dealt with the family’s complaints and will study this carefully before updating them and the Pirc in relation to any matters raised.

“Reports circulating on social media relating to this review do not accurately reflect the facts and findings of the CHR and I am concerned that this could cause further distress to Rhys’ family, friends and the wider community.

“We provide care and support to everyone who comes into contact with the police following the death of a family member and I am absolutely committed to providing that support to Stephanie Bonner and her family in the appropriate manner.”