When Bridget Flack vanished, her sister went to police. An officer told her to call the fire brigade

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The sister of a transgender woman has described the frustrating battle to convince police to take her disappearance seriously, saying one officer even suggesting calling the fire brigade so the missing woman’s flat could be searched.

Angela Pucci Love, whose 28-year-old sister Bridget Flack died in 2020, gave evidence on Monday at an inquest into the deaths of five young trans and gender-diverse people who took their own lives in 2020 and 2021.

Angela Pucci Love during an appeal for information in 2020.

The Coroners Court heard Flack had been missing for 11 days when she was found dead, with hundreds of members of Melbourne’s LGBTQ community taking part in searches despite the lack of an official police hunt.

Pucci Love described elements of the police response to her sister’s disappearance, including a Flemington police station officer who she recalled told her: “Just say there’s been smoke seen, and the fire brigade will come and look in the flat.”

Hundreds of people joined the search for Bridget Flack.

She said: “I don’t believe they understood the level of risk.

“And I was just astounded that, initially, it wasn’t taken seriously … I kept saying, ‘This is not characteristic. This is not normal.’ ”

A Victoria Police detective described wanting to sink into his chair as he listened to Pucci Love’s evidence.

Flack was last seen on November 30, 2020, and was reported missing the following day. On Monday, her inquest was told that two initial requests by police to have Flack’s mobile phone location searched via triangulation were not approved.

By the time Detective Senior Constable Dan Garside took over the case on December 4, no location could be found because Flack’s phone appeared to be switched off.

Garside, who Pucci Love credited with turning around the police response to the case, said it was “pretty hard to listen” to her evidence.

“I wanted to sink into my chair, to be honest,” he told counsel assisting Gemma Cafarella. “No, it’s not good. It’s a sister trying to find a sister; we should be doing better than that.”

Pucci Love said that on the third day of her sister’s disappearance, another officer had told her there was nothing else police could do.

Garside said: “Again, it’s tough to hear … there’s plenty more that can be done. I don’t think you ever reach a point where there’s nothing more that can be done.”

Flack’s is the lead case in a coronial inquiry into the deaths of five transgender women – Flack, Natalie Wilson, Matt Byrne, “AS”, whose identity has been suppressed, and Heather Pierard. All are being referred to in the coronial inquest by their preferred names and pronouns.

The women were aged between 18 and 32 when they died by suicide in Melbourne. All had histories of mental illnesses, and all felt socially isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

In addition to culturally appropriate care that should be afforded transgender and gender-diverse people in Victoria, the inquest will consider the police response to Flack’s disappearance and Victoria Police’s policies, procedures, training and initiatives relating to the transgender and gender-diverse community.

Asked whether Victoria Police’s understanding and efforts to meet the needs of the transgender and gender-diverse community had improved since Flack’s death, Garside said: “I’d like to hope so [and] I’d like to hope that just extends past Victoria Police, and that the community is more accepting and understanding of transgender people in the community.”

The hearing continues.

For help, visit Lifeline at lifeline.org.au, call 13 11 13 or text 0477 13 11 14.

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