POLICE involved in the search for a missing former special forces veteran whose body was found in woodland have defended their response.
Danny Johnston’s grieving mother, Viv Johnston, criticised Sussex police for actions in the search for her son.
The heartbroken mum claimed officers took too long to act when the Afghanistan veteran initially disappeared from the family home in Bognor in May.
She said her family had begged police to get boots on the ground and find the 35-year-old – who was battling with post traumatic stress disorder after his time with the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the sister unit of the SAS – and that officers failed to treat their pleas with any ‘urgency’.
Mrs Johnston said: ‘Police need to listen to families that tell them, sincerely, things are going to end badly if they don’t act straight away, because they don’t.
‘They didn’t know Danny. He wasn’t some drunk who came stumbling out the pub, he was someone who had done years of service for his country.
‘The police don’t think with any urgency. They seem to go through the motions. They were more interested in finding out Dan’s service number than finding my son.’
Chief Inspector Kris Ottery said teams were notified about Mr Johnston’s disappearance at 3.19am, on Sunday, May 20.
He said activities were ‘immediately put in place’ to try and find the elite soldier.
‘This was an incredibly challenging investigation,’ he said. ‘We had serious concerns for Daniel, and many officers were involved in the enquiries to locate him.
‘Within just over an hour, four units were deployed to the search and by 6am, checks had been made with the local hospital and taxi firms and to locate his vehicle locally and nationally. We sought permission to issue a media appeal, but this was denied.’
At 7.09am officers were told Mr Johnston had contacted his family and was on the way home, returning at 7.47am.
Police carried out a follow-up check at 9.55am to speak to him, but were told he had left again almost two hours earlier, at 8am.
Mr Ottery said searches were ‘widened’ throughout the day with checks made at hospitals, taxi firms, transport hub and elsewhere.
Former soldiers from Mr Johnston’s old army unit, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, rallied to organise search parties across West Sussex and later in Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
Police were contacted on Sunday afternoon and allocated a police sergeant to liaise.
Mr Ottery admitted to The News the missing veteran’s military evasion techniques made it ‘very difficult to tie down specific areas’ for police-led searches.
‘Our efforts to find Daniel included trying to locate him through his mobile phone and indeed, an officer spoke to him just after midday when he said he was in Bognor Regis and would speak to police when he returned,’ he said.
When that didn’t happen officers put out an appeal to the public for help the next day, with several sightings prompting police actions.
Mr Johnston’s body was found on May 23 in woodland at Stoughton Down.