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Force admits health and safety breaches over restraint belt death


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Thomas Orchard died after an emergency response belt was placed across his face.

CCTV still issued by the Independent Police Complaints Commission of Thomas Orchard in a cell at Heavitree Road police station after he was held down, handcuffed and placed in restraints.

CCTV still issued by the Independent Police Complaints Commission of Thomas Orchard in a cell at Heavitree Road police station after he was held down, handcuffed and placed in restraints.

Date - 19th October 2018
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Devon and Cornwall Police pleaded guilty today to health and safety breaches in relation to an emergency response belt that was used on a man before he died in custody.

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

During his detention Mr Orchard, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was restrained and an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) was placed across his face.


He was then left in a locked cell, where he lay apparently motionless for 12 minutes before custody staff re-entered and started CPR.

In March 2017, a custody sergeant and two staff members from Devon and Cornwall Police were acquitted of Mr Orchard's manslaughter by gross negligence.

A year later, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it had charged the office of the chief constable of the force under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Shaun Sawyer, the chief constable, appeared at Bristol Crown Court on behalf of the force and entered a guilty plea to the single charge against it.

The court heard the issue of whether the breaches causes Mr Orchard's death has not been resolved between prosecution and defence teams.


Judge Julian Lambert will decide on the issue during a hearing, expected to last for three days, in April next year.

Prosecuting, Mark Heywood QC, told the judge: "Both parties are agreed that this is a multi-factorial case.

"The issue is whether or not restriction of breathing by application of the belt was a contributory factor [of death]."

The hearing in April will include evidence of Mr Orchard's restraint, including CCTV footage and witnesses.

The judge will also consider the degree of training in relation to the ERB, "which is at the heart of the case", Mr Heywood said.

Jason Beer QC, representing the office of the chief constable for Devon and Cornwall Police, told the court: "The principal issue between the parties is causation and there is a subsidiary issue of training."

CC Sawyer said he could now express his "deepest regret" to the family of Mr Orchard.

His statement read: "My thoughts have always been with Thomas, his family and friends who have lost a loved one.

"It is only today that I have been able to personally offer my deepest regret to all those individuals.

"From the outset, Devon and Cornwall Police has co-operated fully with the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service.

"In respect of the use of the emergency restraint belt, it is my belief that the standards expected by Devon and Cornwall Police were not met between 2002 and 2012 and did not meet the legal threshold of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

"In the spirit of candour and out of respect to the courts, the family of Thomas, the public and my workforce, I have decided - as the corporate responsibility of this organisation, that it is only right to plead guilty on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police to this charge.

"However, legal matters remain outstanding in respect of whether this health and safety breach caused the death of Thomas.

"We must respect this court process as the judge is still to make a determination on this very issue, and it is not for Devon and Cornwall Police to make a decision on such a critical matter.

"This is an extremely complex matter and it remains to be determined by the court. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment further at this particular juncture."

Alison Orchard, Thomas' mother, said: “For over six years Devon and Cornwall Police have consistently refused to accept any responsibility for Thomas’ needless and avoidable death.

“We welcome today’s guilty plea and the fact that they are finally admitting to some failings. 

“However, having watched and listened to much evidence over the years, we are shocked and horrified that they still deny that those failings in any way contributed to Thomas’ death.

“Despite the claims of the chief constable, we see little actual evidence of remorse. Therefore, whilst our family does not relish the prospect of yet another hearing, we are pleased that the defendant’s denial that its criminal conduct caused Thomas’ death will now be tested in open court.” 

Helen Stone, solicitor at Hickman and Rose, said: “As far as we are aware, this is the first time a police force has admitted to a health and safety breach in connection with a death in police custody. It therefore opens up a new front in society’s fight against state wrongdoing.


“All police forces should now review how equipment is approved, reviewed, and trained for use to ensure not only that they comply with the law, but that no other members of the public are put at risk as Thomas was.”

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