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The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

01 May 2018
Almost 6 years after the death of Thomas Orchard, a 32 year old church care taker who suffered a cardiac arrest whilst in police custody, the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police has been charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for exposing a non-employee to risks to their health and safety.
Thomas Orchard had a history of mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19. He had been sectioned on 5 separate occasions and, after failing to take his medication, relapsed several days before his death. Following his relapse Mr Orchard had confided in mental health professionals that he believed he was a vampire and that he should not be going outside during the day.

On 3 October 2012 Mr Orchard was found shouting at and threatening members of the public in Exeter town centre. He was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence, restrained and placed in a small van to be taken to Heavitree Road Police Station. 

Upon his arrival at the Custody Suite it is believed that Mr Orchard attempted to bite an Officers arm. The Officers, who were not aware Mr Orchard was suffering from a mental illness, believed him to be a risk. He was held down and restrained by three Officers, restraints were placed around his legs and an emergency response belt was secured around his face. These restraints remained in place for 4 and 5 minutes respectively. 

Mr Orchard was taken to his cell and the restraints were removed. Officers left the cell and Mr Orchard appeared to lie motionless for 12 minutes before the Officers returned to attend to him and carry out CPR. Mr Orchard subsequently died in hospital later that week. 

Investigations were carried out in relation to the death. The emergency response belt used on Mr Orchard was intended for use around a detainee's arms and legs, albeit the US manufacturer stated it could also be used around the face to prevent biting and spitting. Devon and Cornwall Police authorised the latter use, yet no risk assessment in relation to the belt highlighted any risks in using the restraint in this manner. 

In March 2017 three officers of Devon and Cornwall Police pleaded not guilty to charges of Gross Negligence Manslaughter. Following a Trial at Bristol Crown Court, all three were cleared of the charges by a jury. On 24 April 2018 the CPS confirmed the Chief Constable will be charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in relation to the death. This news was not welcomed by Mr Orchard's family who were pushing for Corporate Manslaughter charges and are said to be dismayed at the CPS's decision. 

The Chief Constable noted that significant investigations had taken place in relation to the incident. He advised that for Corporate Manslaughter charges to be brought there must have been management or organisational failings which caused the force to grossly breach the duty of care they owed to Mr Orchard as a detainee resulting in his death. There was no evidence to support such a charge. 

The First Appearance is listed to take place on 24 May 2018 at Westminster Magistrates Court. At this hearing representatives acting on behalf of the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police will be asked to enter a plea in response to the charge.

It is noted that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigations are ongoing. Six officers are being investigated and will face charges for misconduct offences.

Further Reading