Jacob Michael inquest: Police failings in custody death
- 26 October 2012
- From the section Liverpool
Police failures and a "cocaine-induced delirium" contributed to a man's death in custody, an inquest jury has found.
Jacob Michael, 25, died in a police station after being pepper-sprayed when he made threats with a hammer at his home in Widnes, Cheshire.
The jury at Warrington Coroner's Court returned a misadventure verdict on the death in August 2011.
Coroner Nicholas Rheinberg said the case had revealed "ineffective" police training and procedural failures.
The jury of eight women and one man also returned a second narrative verdict identifying the factors which could have caused or contributed to Mr Michael's death.
Speaking after the hearing, solicitor Kate Maynard said Mr Michael's mother Christine was "very disappointed" by the verdicts.
The four-week inquest was told how officers were called to Mr Michael's home after he had called them to report someone had pulled a gun on him.
'Fear, flight and fight'
Mr Michael, who was a cocaine user who would occasionally "binge" on the drug, then locked himself in his bedroom and threatened officers with a hammer, which led them to use pepper spray on him.
He was arrested for alleged affray and taken in a police van to a custody suite at Runcorn police station with his hands cuffed and his legs in restraints.
The jury, sitting at Daresbury Park Hotel, reached its verdicts after more than two days of deliberations.
Reading the jury's verdict, Mr Rheinberg said that "partying and his heart's susceptibility to cocaine probably contributed to the death".
The "fear, flight and fight" response caused during the arrest "may have also contributed to the death", the jury found.
It also found "ineffective" police training, procedural failures, failures to carry out a "timely assessment" and a lack of communication may have contributed to Mr Michael's death.
Mr Rheinberg said he would be writing to Cheshire's chief constable to draw his attention to a "gulf" between written police and actual practice in relation to detainees who had been pepper-sprayed.
He added that he would be asking the chief constable to introduce a "simple form of risk assessment" to combat "serious deficiencies in relation to the assessment of detainees", which had been highlighted by both Mr Michael's death and that of Anthony Davies, who died after collapsing in a police van en route to Middlewich Custody Suite in April 2011.
An inquest in May delivered a verdict of accidental death in relation to Mr Davies' death.
Ms Maynard, who was delivering a statement on behalf of Mrs Michael, said she believed that "if the police had not stormed into Jacob's bedroom then he would still be alive".
"The jury found that the police officers and staff that dealt with Jacob were ineffectively trained, failed to follow force procedures, failed to perform a timely medical assessment and there was a lack of communication," she said.
"The jury also said that Jacob's response may have contributed to his death [and] this refers in part to the violent arrest and restraint that experts in evidence said could have been avoided.
"We hope that Cheshire Police learns lessons from these harsh criticisms so that other families don't have to go through what we have done."
Cheshire Police's deputy chief constable Helen King said Mr Michael's death "was a tragedy".
She said the force wanted to "express our sincere sorrow and regret that Jacob died in our care after his arrest when he and his family should have been able to feel that he was in a safe place".
Naseem Malik, from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said it had been "a tragic incident which understandably raised public concern".