19 Nov 2013

Second criminal probe into police restraint death

Home Affairs Correspondent

The IPCC is leading a criminal investigation into the actions of eight Surrey police officers and two police staff involved in the detention and restraint of Terry Smith, who later died in hospital.

Smith, 33, was detained by police under the mental health act at around 10pm on Tuesday 12 November following a call for assistance from an ambulance crew, according to the IPCC. He was acting strangely and only partially clothed, it was reported, and then “became ill” after he had been taken to Staines police station where police continued to restrain him. He died the following day at St Peter’s hospital in Surrey.

Based on our initial inquiries, I have decided this will be a criminal investigation into eight Surrey police officers and two Surrey police staff. Commissioner Jennifer Izekor

In Surrey, as IPCC investigators conducted house to house enquiries, Commissioner Jennifer Izekor issued the following statement appealing for witnesses: “A week on from Terry Smith’s detention, we have made good progress in our investigation, but we would still like to appeal for help from any member of the public who may have seen something.

“Based on our initial inquiries, I have decided this will be a criminal investigation into eight Surrey police officers and two Surrey police staff who were involved in Terry Smith’s detention and restraint.

“At this stage we consider there is an indication that potential criminal offences may have been committed including gross negligence manslaughter, misconduct in public office, and/or offences under the health and safety at work act 1974. We will also be considering whether any potential disciplinary offences have been committed.

The investigation includes looking at the length of time Terry Smith was restrained and the methods used by police. Commissioner Jennifer Izekor

“We will keep the numbers of police personnel subject to investigation and potential offences under review… Our investigation is examining the detention of Terry Smith by officers, his removal in a police van to Staines police station, and his time spent in custody before being taken to hospital at 1am on Wednesday.

“The investigation includes looking at the length of time Terry Smith was restrained and the methods used by police.”

Terry Smith’s death came just over a week after that of Leon Briggs, another man detained under the mental health act and restrained in police custody. Mr Briggs, 39, from Luton, died in hospital on 4 November. The IPCC is leading a criminal investigation into Mr Briggs’s death, while Bedfordshire police have suspended seven members of staff involved in his detention. It was a move, according to Bedfordshire Chief Constable Colette Paul, which “in no way jumps to any conclusion about the outcome of the investigation”, but was intended to ensure “neutrality and transparency” during the investigation.

IPCC restraint Terry Smith Surrey police Leon Briggs

In another development, the family of Thomas Orchard, a 32-year-old man who died in Exeter last year following detention in police custody, revealed to Channel 4 News today the range of criminal offences which the Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering in his case, including corporate manslaughter.

Thomas Orchard, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence in Exeter in October 2012, after police were called to a report of a disturbance. He was taken to a police station in the city where, as Channel 4 News disclosed last month, a restraining belt normally used on limbs was placed around Mr Orchard’s face.

During his detention he became unresponsive and died later in hospital. Following an investigation, the IPCC submitted a file of evidence to the CPS in July, who have yet to determine whether charges should be brought against any of the officers and staff involved in his detention.

But in a letter to Mr Orchard’s family, the CPS has now set out the specific offences currently under consideration in this case –

  1. Manslaughter by an unlawful act
  2. Manslaughter by gross negligence
  3. Misconduct in a public office
  4. Corporate manslaughter
  5. Perverting the Course of Justice
  6. Any health and safety offence(s)

“We are pleased that the IPCC and CPS are taking Thomas’s death seriously,” said the Orchard family in a statement, “and can only hope that what seems to us like a protracted process is indicative of thoroughness and rigour.

“The seriousness of these charges is self evident and we are distressed that neither has the ERB [emergency response belt] used on Thomas been more widely withdrawn nor have the seven individuals concerned been suspended, as the IPCC recommended many months ago.

“If there have been offences committed, we hope they will be addressed fairly and transparently so that justice is done.”

Last year the IPCC wrote to all chief constables identifying a risk in the way that an emergency response belt (ERB) had been used on Mr Orchard as a”spit hood” by Devon and Cornwall police. They – along with other forces – have since told Channel 4 News they have stopped staff from using the belt in this way.

In all three cases, the facts have yet to be fully established. But the proximity of these latest deaths in custody – one within almost a week of the other – has already prompted a statement from the charity iNQUEST declaring that “lessons from previous deaths have not been acted on”. As they call for a national strategy to bring about cultural changes in how institutions respond to those experiencing mental health crises, many in the police are also calling for urgent action.

The chairman of Devon & Cornwall Police Federation, Nigel Rabbitts, today issued a plea for a major change in strategy on the issue of policing and mental health.

“I cannot comment on the Thomas Orchard case as it’s subject to an IPCC investigation. In more general terms, the federation’s position has been very consistent in that police custody is not the appropriate place for those with mental illness.

“There is real concern among our members that they’re being put in harm’s way with careers endangered due to inadequate training in dealing with members of the community with mental health issues and the lack of an alternative to police custody. We’re not social workers and we’re not mental health workers but the police end up, in effect, being the only statutory body left to intervene.

“People are very quick to hold the police to account on this issue, but what about scrutinising the role of others who share responsibility in the treatment of those with mental illness in the community?”