Three dead and two seriously injured passengers lay undiscovered in car wreckage for as long as 46 hours, while police told a desperate mother to stop ringing them about her missing daughter.
Gwent Police have been accused of appearing so unconcerned when they were contacted about three missing childhood friends on Saturday night that families were forced to mount their own searches.
Sophie Russon, 20, Eve Smith, 21 and Darcy Ross, 21, had been on a night out together on Friday, which saw them visit bars in the towns of Newport and Porthcawl, South Wales.
They then travelled to the Cardiff area in the early hours of Saturday morning in a VW Tiguan with Rafel Jeanne, 24, and Shane Loughlin, 32, who were believed to be new acquaintances. All five of them vanished at around 2am.
A missing person report was first filed with Gwent Police at around 9pm on Saturday, police sources told The Telegraph. The family and friends of those missing, by now extremely worried, took to social media to ask for information at around the same time.
Yet it was not until more than a day later, just after 11pm on Sunday, that Gwent Police finally put out their own public appeal.
Their press statement was barely an hour old when the wreckage of the VW Tiguan was recovered among trees just off a roundabout on the A48 in the St Mellons area of Cardiff.
Ms Smith, Ms Ross and Mr Jeanne were all found dead, according to their families. Ms Russon and Mr Loughlin were seriously injured and have been taken to hospital, police said.
It is unclear precisely when the crash happened, but the abrupt end to all communications and social media updates at around 2am on Saturday raises the possibility the victims were lying there for nearly two days.
The mother of Ms Russon, Anna Certowicz, said she was dismayed by the police’s apparent lack of concern when she first reported her daughter missing.
She was eventually forced to mount her own search around the Gwent and Cardiff areas after the force told her to “stop ringing” the station for updates.
“They didn’t seem to care,” Ms Certowicz, 42, told the Daily Mail.
“I had to drive to Cardiff to knock on doors myself because they were doing sod all. They just didn’t seem to think it was worth investigating. It was so frustrating.
“I think they assumed that Sophie was hungover somewhere, but she’s a sensible girl who works in a bank and hasn’t taken a day off for three years.
“She’s not someone who’s out clubbing in Cardiff all the time. On Friday nights she’s more likely to be babysitting so other people can go out. She wouldn’t just vanish like this unless something was wrong.”
Gwent Police has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which will carry out an assessment of whether the force needs to be investigated for its handling of the case. South Wales Police are investigating the circumstances of the crash.
An IOPC spokesman said: “We can confirm that Gwent Police have advised us that they are making a referral in connection with this tragic incident and we will carry out an assessment in due course to determine what further action may be required from us.”