Tyne & Wear

Mark Needham custody death: Police staff at fault

Mark Needham Image copyright Family photograph
Image caption The inquest heard Mark Needham should have been taken to hospital rather than detained in a cell

Errors by sergeants and a police nurse contributed to the death of a man in custody, an inquest has concluded.

Mark Needham, 52, had five seizures in a cell at Forth Banks Police Station in Newcastle in July 2015.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said the actions of some officers and staff "fell well below the standard expected".

Northumbria Police Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon said the force was "far from complacent".

"Custody procedures have been reviewed and changed since 2015 and this is a continuing process," she said.

Mr Needham had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly and police knew he was prone to seizures when withdrawing from alcohol, jurors heard.

They were told by a medical expert he should have been sent to hospital "as a matter of urgency".

However custody nurse Lynne Hetherington spent "a matter of seconds" checking him and admitted her assessment as "fit to be detained" was "fundamentally flawed".

'Errors and omissions'

The jury concluded this amounted to "serious errors and omissions to provide appropriate healthcare assessment".

It also found there were "errors and omissions" by custody sergeants who "inappropriately completed a risk assessment" that was "not suitable" given Mr Needham's medical history.

There were further errors in how welfare checks were carried out, it concluded.

In a statement, Mr Needham's family said it was "grateful for the acknowledgement that there were failings in his care".

"We sincerely hope lessons will be learnt in relation to the way vulnerable people are dealt with in a custody situation, not only for the sake of other vulnerable people and their families but also for those who ultimately have to live with the knowledge that their failings may have contributed to someone's death."

Senior coroner Karen Dilks warned Northumbria Police her report was likely to question police risk assessments relying on information from people who were drunk.

She also raised concerns about the risk of custody staff becoming "desensitised" to drunk people and missing deteriorating health conditions as a result.

An IOPC investigation found evidence of gross misconduct and misconduct by a number of police officers and staff.

David Ford, from the watchdog, said: "In this case, more could and should have been done."

Independent disciplinary panels by the force found five detention officers and one sergeant guilty of gross misconduct, while the case against another sergeant was found not proven.

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