Police have been criticised for their failure to find a seriously injured man after a car crash in West Norfolk, despite searching the area twice.
The man was only discovered by a member of the public more than five hours after the incident on the A47 at Walpole Highway last July.
Now, senior officers have apologised for the way the case was handled after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) upheld a complaint brought by the victim’s family.
Norfolk Police assistant chief constable Charlie Hall said: “We accept the finding that, on this occasion, our service fell below that expected.
The report, published on Friday, reveals that police were first alerted to the location of the car involved in the incident, a dark blue Peugeot, at around 11.20am on July 8 last year.
Officers examined the scene twice and visited the address of the registered owner of the vehicle, without finding him.
He was eventually found with serious chest and pelvic injuries, which the commission says he is still recovering from, at around 4.30pm that day by a member of the public, who alerted the emergency services.
The report concluded it was “improbable” that the man could have moved to where he was found after the police attended because of the extent of his injuries.
And IPCC commissioner Sarah Green said: “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 valuable time was lost before he received medical attention.
But the commission said the officers’ failure to find the motorist did not amount to either misconduct or a criminal offence, as the ditch was not easily visible and the area was covered with dense vegetation.
The commission has also revealed a control room operator was formally cautioned under the Data Protection Act and retrained after disclosing sensitive information about the case to a relative of the injured man three days after the incident.
Mr Hall said: “While the report acknowledges some of the unique challenges faced by the officers at 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.
“Lessons learned will be applied to further improve the service we deliver.”