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Police staff could face charges after church caretaker dies in custody

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 08, 2013

By Rod Minchin

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A watchdog is recommending criminal charges against police staff who were involved in the care of a man who died in custody.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) confirmed it had passed a second file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the death of Thomas Orchard, 32, in Devon last year.

Mr Orchard, a church caretaker who suffered from schizophrenia, was arrested on October 3 in Exeter city centre on suspicion of a public order offence.

He was later taken to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital when officers became concerned that he was not responding to them while in his cell. He died in hospital at 6pm on October 10, from suspected head injuries.

In March, the IPCC recommended Devon and Cornwall Police suspend the six staff from their positions, although the force said it decided to only place them on “restricted duties” – meaning they were withdrawn from frontline service.

It said then that a file of evidence had been passed to prosecutors relating specifically to one officer during Mr Orchard’s arrest and the level of force used.

A second file, which prosecutors received in July, focuses on Mr Orchard’s time in custody and relates to two custody detention staff, three police officers, one custody sergeant and a nurse who is employed by a contractor.

Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “It will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether criminal charges will be brought against any of those police staff involved in Mr Orchard’s detention on that day.”

The IPCC said last year its investigation would aim to discover whether or not Mr Orchard’s head injuries were sustained during his arrest.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: “We have received evidence from the IPCC in relation to the death of Thomas Orchard.

“We need to consider all of the current material in order to determine whether any further investigation is required.

“Once we are satisfied that we have received a full file, we will consider whether charges should be brought.”

The IPCC has also sent a file to the Health and Safety Executive, which the HSE said it was reviewing.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said: “We have been informed of the death of Thomas Orchard and are reviewing information provided to us by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“We are looking to establish what role there is for HSE in light of the IPCC’s findings, but at this stage we have not launched a formal HSE investigation into Mr Orchard’s death.”

Mr Orchard’s family said they had lots of unanswered questions about his detention.

“An emergency restraint belt was applied. We don’t know how or why fully that it was applied. We have massive concerns about its use,” Mr Orchard’s sister Jo told Channel 4 News.

“We continue to ask questions to the IPCC and the CPS. We really need these questions answered.”

Asked why the police would use the restraint upon Mr Orchard, she replied: “Presumably they thought he might spit or bite. My family and I have never experienced him doing either.”

The IPCC said in a statement released yesterday that it had written to all chief constables in England and Wales and "expressed concern" at the use of the emergency restraint belt as a spit hood because it "posed a risk to individuals".

“The IPCC investigation into the death of Thomas Orchard led to a file of evidence submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service and concerns Mr Orchard’s time in custody and relates to two custody detention staff, three police officers, one custody sergeant and a nurse who is employed by a contractor,” the statement said.

“It will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether criminal charges will be brought against any of those police staff involved in Mr Orchard’s detention on that day.

“The IPCC also submitted a file of evidence to the Health and Safety Executive in August for them to consider corporate charges.

“The IPCC identified a risk in the way that an emergency restraint belt (ERB) was used on Mr Orchard as a spit hood by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and wrote to all chief constables in England and Wales on November 1 2012.

“The letter expressed concern that use of an ERB in this way posed a risk to individuals. The IPCC highlighted the need for any other body using an ERB in such a way to carry out risk assessments.

“The IPCC investigation has concluded and has looked at CCTV footage, taken statements, interviewed officers and custody staff and reviewed relevant policies and training.

“The investigation has also looked at restraint techniques and the use of emergency restraint belts used by the force during Mr Orchard’s arrest and detention.”

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  • toffer99  |  October 07 2013, 4:32PM

    For what its worth, here's a prediction. No Policeman will ever be prosecuted, censured or admonished in any way in this matter.

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