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Death of blind woman found lying under Halifax bridge accidental, review says

HALIFAX - An external review into the police investigation of a blind woman found lying beneath a bridge in Halifax has concluded that her death was accidental but is recommending improvements on how to communicate with victims' families.

Halifax's police chief asked Quebec City police in February to conduct the review after Holly Bartlett's family approached him with concerns over the adequacy of his department's investigation.

Bartlett, a resident of Halifax, was discovered unconscious under the MacKay Bridge on March 27, 2010, and died in hospital the next day.

At the time, Halifax police concluded Bartlett, 31, had become disoriented after leaving a taxi in the early morning hours and fell 10 metres off a concrete abutment.

The review released Friday says she was drinking before she fell but her blood-alcohol level is redacted.

The report says it is impossible to know all of Bartlett's actions prior to her fall but there was no reason for Halifax investigators to believe Bartlett's death was a criminal act.

However, the review takes issue with what it said was a lack of thorough investigative steps. It says social media and computers are valuable sources of information in major crimes investigations, but Halifax police did not analyze Bartlett's Facebook account and computer until January and February of this year.

"This task should have been completed during the first hours of the case," the review says.

The report recommends the designation of family liaison officers in future major cases. Those liaison officers would be a conduit for information given and taken from relatives, the review says.

Halifax police Chief Jean-Michel Blais and Chief Supt. Roland Wells of the Halifax RCMP said in a statement they were concerned that Quebec City police did not interview each officer involved in the file. But they said they are determining how to best implement the review's recommendations.

"Specifically, we recognize that opportunities exist to ensure rigour in our investigative processes and strengthen communication, particularly as it relates to dealing with the family of a victim who has passed away," the statement said.

Blais said in February that he asked Quebec City's police department to do the review because they operate in a similar-sized city and are the closest with a large major crimes unit.

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