8th May 2019

On 3 May 2019 Bristol Crown Court fined Devon and Cornwall Police £234,500 for health and safety breaches in relation to a belt used around the face of Thomas Orchard before he collapsed.

On 3 October 2012 Mr Orchard was arrested for shouting at members of the public.  He suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

He was restrained and an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) was placed across his face by Police Officers.  The belt, which prevents spitting or biting, was left on for over 5 minutes.

He was placed in a cell.  The restraints were removed.  12 minutes later custody staff re-entered and found he was in cardiac arrest.  They began resuscitation.  He was taken to Hospital but sadly died on 10 October 2012.

In December 2014 a Custody Officer and two Detention Officers were charged with Mr Orchard’s manslaughter.  They were acquitted following trial.

In February 2019 the Police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), stated that six Police Officers and staff would face misconduct proceedings (disciplinary proceedings) as a result of the incident.

In October 2018 Devon and Cornwall Police pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety Act.  There followed a trial to resolve a series of disputed matters as a result of which a Judge stated he could not be sure the belt placed around Mr Orchard’s face contributed to his death.  He nevertheless fined the Police Force £234,500 for health and safety breaches in relation to the use of the belt.

It is reported during the trial the prosecution suggested the belt made a “very significant contribution to the ability to draw in oxygen and inability to expel waste products”.  A registered Home Office Pathologist giving evidence in the trial replied “significant? In terms of “was this the straw that broke the camel’s back?” yes, could be”.

It is understood it was argued in Court that the fine was likely to leave the Police Force with fewer Officers.  We find this is a common argument put to Courts when Police Forces face fines or awards of compensation for the wrongdoing of their Officers.  If fines or awards of compensation are at a level which impact a Police Force you would hope a Force would sit up and listen and ensure such wrongdoing was not repeated.  If Police Forces routinely succeed with such an argument in paying minimal fines or awards of compensation there would be far less incentive for the Chief Constable to address the behaviour of his/her Officers.

The IOPC has stated arrangements are being made for misconduct hearings to be held by the Police.

Channel 4 News reported on this matter on 3 May 2019 following the Police Force being fined that day:

Blog by Richard Hardy, Partner