Thomas Orchard death: No action to be taken against police officers

12 July 2019, 16:06 | Updated: 12 July 2019, 18:24

No action is to be taken against four police officers following the death of a man who collapsed in police custody, a misconduct hearing has decided.

However proceedings against two other officers involved in the case are still ongoing.

Thomas Orchard, 32, died in hospital seven days after being arrested and taken to Heavitree Road police station in Exeter, Devon, in October 2012.

Mr Orchard's family said: "Strangely, we are not surprised, and yet deeply shocked, at the ruling announced today."

During his time in custody, Mr Orchard, who had mental health issues, was restrained using an emergency response belt (ERB) over his face for five minutes and two seconds to prevent him biting or spitting.

The office of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police admitted breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2018 during a landmark conviction and the force was fined £234,500.

The charge said the police failed to ensure that "non-employees", including Mr Orchard, were not exposed to any risks in connection to the belt.

Devon and Cornwall Police held misconduct proceedings against Sergeant Jan Kingshott, who was the custody sergeant when Mr Orchard was taken to Heavitree Road police station; and Sergeant Alexander Kennedy, PC Rob Dodd, and PC Mark Nagle who were involved in his detention and restraint.

The panel, which was chaired by Assistant Chief Constable Ben Snuggs of Hampshire Police, concluded the four officers could not have a fair hearing because the panel had "no confidence" in the disclosure process; the delay had caused "irredeemable prejudice"; and in respect of three of the officers, there had been a departure from the regulatory framework such that the officers could not have a fair hearing.

Mr Orchard was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was arrested in Exeter city centre for a public order offence at about 11am on October 3 2012.

In March 2017, Sergeant Kingshott, and civilian detention officers Simon Tansley, and Michael Marsden, were found not guilty of Mr Orchard's manslaughter by gross negligence.

On Friday's ruling, Mr Orchard's family added: "Despite their being charged with behaviour that could amount to gross misconduct, no further action will be taken against four police officers whose actions, together with others, in our opinion, directly led to Thomas' death.

"And this is because of, what we believe to be, incompetence, negligence and sloppy practices from the very people and processes that were meant to protect our son.

"We are not surprised because, in our assessment, we have witnessed it again and again over the past seven years.

"We are not surprised because, to be honest, we never really had any faith in this tribunal, believing it to be an investigation held - only reluctantly after direction from the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) - by the police, for the police.

"However, we also remain deeply shocked. As a family we used to believe in the system; we believed that if something bad happened, justice would be served.

"But no-one and no process that we have witnessed to date has fully explored - openly, honestly and constructively - the catastrophic failings surrounding Thomas' death.

"We feel let down and have been failed beyond belief.

"The saddest thing is for us is that Thomas' death was in vain; worse than that, it seems to have reinforced the notion that the police can behave in ways that we see to have been grossly irresponsible, negligent and reckless … and get away with it."