Tayside and Central Scotland

Prisoner 'died from overdose as officer surfed web'

Tayside Police HQ
Image caption The force said it would consider the sheriff's findings

The family of a teenager who died from a drugs overdose in custody has condemned police for failing in their duty of care.

Kristoffer Batt, 17, died at Tayside Police headquarters in Dundee while a custody assistant surfed the internet.

A fatal accident inquiry heard the teenager had snorted heroin in his cell before he died, which went unnoticed.

His family said they found it "unbelievable" that the custody officer was still working for the force.

The 19-day inquiry into Kristoffer Batt's death in November 2007 heard that the teenager died after taking heroin and diazepam.

He had taken diazepam before his arrest and used a torn-up tissue box to snort heroin he had smuggled into his cell.

The inquiry heard Mr Batt had not been strip searched because the custody sergeant did not have information from previous occasions when he had been in custody - seven times in 2007 alone - and did not know that he had previously admitted to having abused drugs.

The force also failed to keep proper records, which led to Mr Batt wrongly being classed as a low vulnerability prisoner despite the fact he was under the age of 18.

The inquiry heard that after taking heroin, Mr Batt activated his cell light on two occasions to try to attract the attention of custody assistant Stuart Lewis.

But Mr Lewis was found to have deliberately spent long periods of time in an area where he could not see the light system.

Instead he sat in an office surfing the web.

Sheriff Elizabeth Munro said Mr Batt's call for assistance was "ignored" by Mr Lewis on two occasions, the first for a period of 49 minutes and the second for more than 15 minutes.

When Mr Lewis eventually responded, he failed to ask the teenager why he had called for assistance and also failed to switch off the light, leaving the prisoner with no further means of attracting attention.

Still employed

A separate buzzer system, which could also have been used by prisoners to alert officers in the custody suite, had been deliberately switched off "some years ago", the inquiry heard.

Mr Batt died between three and four hours after his arrest.

The inquiry was also told that Mr Lewis had admitted falsifying records of cell checks the night Mr Batt died.

He was disciplined following an investigation by Fife Police but is still employed by Tayside Police in a different role.

In a statement, the teenager's family said: "We find it extraordinary that people charged with the safety of others should so blatantly abuse their position as to devote all night playing on the internet and concerned with their own personal interests.

"From the moment he was taken into custody and certainly once he pressed alarm bells, Kristoffer was entitled to at least a minimum of consideration for his welfare.

"We find it unbelievable that a man who falsified official documentation and was using unauthorised internet access has not lost his job.

"Sadly, we as parents and Kristoffer's two younger brothers are deprived of a future with the boy that we all loved deeply and are immensely proud of."

'Been addressed'

In her findings, the sheriff recommended that the light/buzzer system at the station be improved so custody officers could not "hide from it".

She also said that anyone under the age of 18 should be classed as a juvenile and automatically regarded as "highly vulnerable" while in police custody.

The force said it would consider the findings.

It added: "Initial consideration of the determination indicates that most of the issues raised have already been addressed in terms of current procedures, others will be progressed by the force or will be raised with the other Scottish police forces as they relate to issues that merit discussion nationally.''

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