Thomas Orchard: Police fined over cell death case

Thomas Orchard Image copyright Family Handout
Image caption Thomas Orchard was found unconscious in a cell and later died in hospital

A police force has been fined £234,500 for health and safety breaches in relation to a belt used around the face of a man before he collapsed.

Thomas Orchard was arrested and taken to a police station in Exeter, where he was restrained, in October 2012.

He died in hospital seven days later.

Devon and Cornwall Police was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court on Friday for health and safety breaches. However, Mr Orchard's family said they left court with "no sense of real justice".

The force said the belt had been used about 500 times before Mr Orchard's death without reports of injury.

Mr Orchard's father Ken said: "We hope more than anything that the residents of Devon and Cornwall will be at least a little safer today as a result of Thomas's death."

In a landmark conviction in 2018, the office of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police admitted breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Thomas Orchard was found unconscious at Heavitree Road Police Station

After a trial of issue at Bristol Crown Court, a judge ruled he could not be sure Mr Orchard's death was caused by the use of the belt, which prevents spitting or biting and was left on for five minutes and two seconds.

Judge Julian Lambert said the force's approval of the belt for use about the face followed a "fundamentally flawed process".

He said it was his assessment that it was "only a matter of time" before someone was going to be killed or very seriously injured because of the use of the belt as a spit guard.

The force was also ordered to pay £20,515 in costs.

The court heard the fine was likely to leave the force with fewer officers, with the cost of the average recruit being £30,000 per year.

Mr Orchard, who worked as a church caretaker and had paranoid schizophrenia, was restrained and an emergency response belt (ERB) was placed across his face after his arrest.

Critical changes

The restraints were removed and he was left in a locked cell for 12 minutes before custody staff re-entered and began resuscitation.

Jason Beer QC, for the force, said the belt had been used about the head for 10 years before Mr Orchard's death, adding: "The use of the device did not, on the evidence, cause actual harm to any person."

Speaking outside court, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said: "Today's sentence is clear in its judgment that the actions of Devon and Cornwall Police did not lead to the death of Thomas Orchard."

Mr Sawyer said the force was a "very different organisation" six-and-a-half years on from Mr Orchard's death and had made "critical changes" since 2012.

This included staff training, awareness of mental health crisis and its ability to identify and manage violent, vulnerable people coming into police contact.

Sarah Green, regional director for the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), said some officers' actions would be considered by a misconduct panel.


Image copyright PA
Image caption The emergency response belt was placed across Thomas Orchard's face after his arrest in 2012

3 October 2012 - Mr Orchard arrested in Exeter for shouting at members of the public and taken to Heavitree Police station where he was restrained with an ERB after appearing to lunge towards officers. He is transported to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital after being resuscitated.

10 October 2012 - Mr Orchard is declared dead

18 December 2014 - A custody sergeant and two detention officers are charged with Mr Orchard's manslaughter.

14 March 2017 - All three acquitted after a retrial, after first jury discharged for legal reasons.

15 February 2018 - The police watchdog announces that six Devon and Cornwall Police officers and staff will face misconduct proceedings

19 October 2018 - The Office of the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police pleads guilty to the charge of an offence under the Health and Safety Act

15 April 2019 - A three-day trial of issue begins at Bristol Crown Court to resolve a series of disputed matters

18 April 2019 - Judge Julian Lambert rules he cannot be sure that the belt placed around Mr Orchard's face contributed to his death

3 May 2019 - The force is sentenced.

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