Chief Constable faces prosecution following death of Thomas Orchard

By agency reporter
April 26, 2018

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has informed the family of Thomas Orchard of its decision to bring a Health and Safety prosecution against the office of the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall police concerning his death in 2012.  A first hearing will take place on 24 May 2018 at Westminster Magistrates court. The CPS decided against bringing charges under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Thomas died in 2012 following restraint while detained by Devon and Cornwall police.  Charges to be brought under section 3 of the Health and Safety Act relate to the Force’s use of an Emergency Response Belt (ERB), a piece of equipment used by officers during Thomas Orchard's restraint. 

Thomas Orchard was a fit and physically healthy 32-year-old church caretaker, living independently in supported accommodation at the time of his death. He had a history of mental illness and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. On 3 October 2012 he was arrested and detained by Devon and Cornwall officers in Exeter City Centre following reports of his bizarre and disorientated behaviour.

He was transported by police van to Heavitree Road Police Station. Upon arrival, in addition to the triple limb restraints applied, an ERB, made from a tough impermeable webbing fabric, was put around his face. The ERB remained held around his face as he was carried face down to a cell where he was left lying unresponsive on a cell floor. By the time officers re-entered his cell, Thomas was in cardiac arrest. He was transferred to hospital and pronounced dead on 10 October 2012.

In February 2018, following Devon and Cornwall’s persistent refusal to take action, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) directed the force to bring gross misconduct charges against four police officers and two detention officers  involved in Thomas’ detention and restraint.   These proceedings are still awaited.

Thomas’s family said, “We have spent the past five and a half years, since Thomas died in police custody, watching CCTV footage, listening to witness statements, reading reports, perusing documents which relate to the safety and well being of those in police custody, and witnessing the defensiveness of Devon and Cornwall Police. As a result, we have consistently told those in authority our view of what happened to our much loved son and brother on 3rd October 2012: his was a needless death caused – directly –by lack of care and negligence from the very people who should have been protecting him.

"As a family we can, therefore, be nothing but dismayed by the decision from the CPS not to prosecute for corporate manslaughter; it is hard to believe after all we have witnessed. However, we are pleased that Devon and Cornwall Police will now need to account for their actions in relation to their approach to health and safety in connection with Thomas’ death.

"More than anything else we want to see a change in police attitudes and behaviour, particularly towards those with mental health vulnerabilities. Despite almost six years having passed since Thomas’ death, the evidence suggests that few lessons have been learnt and that little has changed. We have, sadly, come to the conclusion that only a conviction will bring about a genuine commitment amongst police forces to instigate real change and improvement.

"Thomas died when he was 32 years old. We could not then have ever imagined how long we would have had to sustain our fight for justice. Today, as we contemplate what would have been his 38th birthday, our thanks go to those whose expertise has guided us, especially to our solicitors at Hickman and Rose, to all those at the charity, INQUEST, the Victim Support Service and to other families who have also lost loved ones in police custody. Thanks go, too, to our family, friends and colleagues who care with us and for us.”

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said: “The death of Thomas Orchard during a mental health crisis involved some of the most brutal use of restraint equipment by police that we have ever seen.  Since 2011 the CPS have had the power to bring corporate manslaughter charges against police forces. They have never used this power, and have chosen not to here. If not now, then when?

 "We have consistently seen the corporate role and responsibilities surrounding deaths in police custody delegated to the background, unscrutinised and unchallenged.  This historic prosecution of Devon and Cornwall police is an important and necessary response.”

The solicitor for the family, Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose, said: “The family are pleased that the CPS has decided to prosecute Devon and Cornwall Police.

"This appears to be just the third time a chief constable has been prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in connection with a civilian’s death.

"The public will expect the CPS to fearlessly prosecute this case, without delay.

"Devon and Cornwall Police have failed to properly acknowledge public concern around Thomas’s death, including a repeated refusal to accept that they or their officers have a case to answer for their involvement in Thomas’ death. Now the courts will hear the case against the office of the chief constable. Thomas’ family have waited long enough.”

* INQUEST https://www.inquest.org.uk/

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