Asher case highlights 111 confusion

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2012
Iraena Asher
SUPPLIED
IRAENA ASHER: Could have been aided if her helpers had dialled 111, Coroner says.

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Confusion about when to call 111 is rife among New Zealanders, with many dialling non-urgent police numbers even in the case of an emergency, a coroner says.

Coroner Peter Ryan, in making his recommendations into the death of missing Auckland woman Iraena Asher yesterday, said the public needed to be reminded that the safest approach was to always call authorities.

Had a family of "good Samaritans" who picked her up from the side of the road dialled 111, she may not have drowned, Ryan said.

Asher, 25, a trainee teacher and part-time model, was last seen heading towards the beach at Piha in the early hours of October 11 2004. She had spent the day drinking at a nearby house with friends before fleeing about 8pm and calling police for help.

Police instead sent her a taxi.

Julia Woodhouse, her son Henry and her partner Bobbie Carroll, of Piha, had found Asher walking alone after the taxi didn't arrive. She was underdressed and distressed.

They took her home, comforted her, gave her a shower and put her to bed.

However, at about 1am she fled into the night, and despite a massive search over the following days, she was not found.

Ryan found yesterday that she had drowned accidentally, rather than having committed suicide.

"Iraena had a lot to live for," he said. Although she was bi-polar, it was unclear whether she was in a manic episode or just highly emotional.

Ryan said while Carroll and the Woodhouses should be should be commended for taking Asher into their care they should have called police, their earlier failure to respond non-withstanding.

"It's not a criticism. I'm acknowledging there was an opportunity for professional intervention that may have affected the outcome," Ryan said.

Woodhouse and Carroll wept as Ryan read his findings, afterwards saying they couldn't agree.

"He made it very clear it was not a criticism. I'm not going to be defensive," Carroll said.

"But as far as a contributing factor, we're not happy about that. I think it lies with police. I'm comfortable with what we did."

In making his recommendations, Ryan said the lesson to be learned for the public was to always call 111.

Evidence from police said many people were confused when to call the police, he said - some calling when things weren't urgent, and others calling non-urgent lines when it was a real emergency.

He said it was better to err on the side of caution and put the decision-making into police hands as they were better equipped to deal with mentally ill people.

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He made no further recommendations for police, as they had already conducted two investigations, and spent $45 million making wide-ranging changes to the 111 system.

Most of Asher's family chose not to be in court. Asher's father on Wednesday told the Coroner the inquest was "meaningless."

- Auckland Now

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