Thomas Orchard: Devon and Cornwall Police admits restraining offence

BBC News
Family Handout Thomas Orchard was found unconscious in a cell and later died in hospital

A police force has pleaded guilty to breaking health and safety rules over the use of an emergency response belt.

Devon and Cornwall Police were charged in relation to the death of Thomas Orchard who was arrested and restrained by officers in Exeter in October 2012.

The force admitted the breach on the basis that there were failings on how officers were trained to use the emergency restraint belt.

It has not accepted that the belt led directly to Mr Orchard's death.

There will be a hearing in April 2019 when a judge will rule on whether the conduct led to his death.

This is the first time that a police force has admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act in connection with the death of a member of the public.

Shaun Sawyer, the chief constable, appeared at Bristol Crown Court on behalf of the force and entered a guilty plea to the single charge against it.

In a statement afterwards, he said: "In respect of the use of the emergency restraint belt, it is my belief that the standards expected by Devon and Cornwall Police were not met between 2002 and 2012 and did not meet the legal threshold of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974."

Ken Orchard, Thomas's father, said: "Having watched and listened to much evidence over the years we are shocked and horrified that they are still denying that those failings in any way contributed to Thomas's death.

"Despite the claims of the chief constable we see very little actual evidence of remorse therefore, whilst the family does not relish the prospect of yet another hearing, we are pleased that the defendant's denial its criminal conduct caused Thomas's death will now be tested in open court."

Solicitor Helen Stone, representing Mr Orchard's family, said the failure of the force to accept that the breach of health and safety rules caused Thomas Orchard's death was "deeply concerning".

Mr Orchard, 32, who had paranoid schizophrenia, died in hospital a week after he suffered a cardiac arrest at Heavitree Road police station in Exeter.

During his detention he was restrained and an Emergency Response Belt was placed across his face.

He was then left in a locked cell, where he lay apparently motionless for 12 minutes before custody staff re-entered and commenced CPR.

In March 2017, a custody sergeant and two staff members from Devon and Cornwall Police were acquitted of Mr Orchard's manslaughter by gross negligence.

In April 2018, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it had charged the office of the chief constable of the force under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

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