First hearings begin as chief constable’s office charged over custody death

Lawyers representing Devon and Cornwall Police’s chief constable have appeared in court as the force faces charges over the death of a detainee.

Jul 6, 2018
By Kevin Hearty
Thomas Orchard died of asphyxia after being detained by Devon and Cornwall Police in 2012

Thomas Orchard, 32, suffered a cardiac arrest at an Exeter police station in 2012 and died in hospital a week later.

The office of Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer has been charged under health and safety laws relating to its use of restraint equipment during the incident.

Force lawyers appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday (July 4) for the first hearing since the charges were brought.

The case has now been adjourned until August 1, when it will be heard at Bristol Crown Court.

Mr Orchard’s death six years ago followed his arrest in Exeter city centre over reports he was demonstrating bizarre and disorientated behaviour.

The church caretaker, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was taken to Heavitree Road Police Station where he was restrained with an emergency response belt across his face.

Mr Orchard was later found unresponsive and was transferred to hospital, but was pronounced dead on October 10.

A Home Office pathologist identified his death was a result of physical restraint and asphyxia caused by the emergency response belt.

Custody Sergeant Jan Kingshott and detention officers Simon Tansley and Michael Marsden were charged with gross negligence manslaughter over the death.

All three were found not guilty by a jury at Bristol Crown Court in March 2017.

In April, the Crown Prosecution Service announced new charges were being brought against Devon and Cornwall Police under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – for a failure to ensure the safety of a non-employee.

Prosecutors declined to bring charges against the force under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

In a statement at the time, Mr Orchard’s family said they were “dismayed” by the decision not to push for manslaughter charges, adding: “It is hard to believe after all we have witnessed.”

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