Suffolk Police 'failed to care' for man who died in cell

Suffolk Police "failed to take appropriate care" of a "vulnerable man" who died after being kept in a cell, a watchdog has ruled.

Robert Edwards, 55, was arrested in Bury St Edmunds on 20 May 2011 over allegations of assault.

He was taken to West Suffolk Hospital after falling unconscious in his cell and died on 25 May.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found insufficient checks were made on Mr Edwards.

The IPCC investigation began in December 2011, but the findings were only made available after an inquest held in Bury St Edmunds closed on Friday.

'Vulnerable state'

Recording a narrative verdict, Suffolk's coroner Dr Peter Dean said Mr Edwards was a "known methadone and alcohol user".

"He should not have been deemed fit for detention," Dr Dean said.

"Subsequently, finds of deterioration were missed, leading to aspiration and hypoxia, leading to cardiac arrest and widespread ischemia of the brain."

The IPCC investigation found there was a lack of clarity as to who had responsibility for Mr Edwards's care following a shift handover between custody sergeants.

But it was unable to establish whether officers were supplied with specific information that Mr Edwards, when heavily intoxicated, had a tendency to vomit in his sleep.

Commissioner Sarah Green said: "Our investigation found that Suffolk Constabulary failed to take appropriate care of Mr Edwards, who was in a vulnerable state due to his intoxication, and did not properly carry out rousing checks on him as needed.

"When Mr Edwards' condition deteriorated, this was not identified and responded to sufficiently promptly."

'Extremely seriously'

A Suffolk Police spokesman said the force's "thoughts and sympathies" were with the family.

"We hope that the conclusion of the inquest can bring them some closure in relation to his death," the spokesman said.

The IPCC investigation also found that a detention officer, Barry Brackenborough, had a case to answer for gross misconduct for failing to wake Mr Edwards on more than one occasion.

The officer resigned from Suffolk Police ahead of disciplinary proceedings.

A misconduct panel, held in his absence, found the case proven and indicated that had Mr Brackenborough not resigned, he would have been dismissed.

Suffolk Police said it took the incident "extremely seriously" and had been "determined to learn lessons from it".

The spokesman added: "Officers and staff who work in our custody suites are given extensive training in rousing procedures, in line with national guidelines.

"This was no different at the time of Mr Edwards's death. However, in this particular case the training was not put into practise and procedures not followed correctly."

PC Alison Huntley was found to have a case to answer for misconduct for failing to rouse Mr Edwards adequately on one occasion.

She accepted a written warning following a misconduct meeting.

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