Four police officers face charges over mentally ill man Thomas Orchard's death in custody


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The Independent Online

Four police officers could face criminal charges over the death of a mentally ill church caretaker who was restrained when he was arrested following a disturbance in the street, The Independent has learned.

Thomas Orchard, 32, died in hospital seven days after being found unresponsive in his cell – just an hour after his arrest by police in Exeter. A file has now been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for charges to be considered against four officers from Devon and Cornwall Police, two civilian members of the custody staff and a nurse working for an outside contractor.

The police watchdog investigated Mr Orchard’s death after he was arrested at about 11am on 3 October last year and taken to a police station by van. He was taken to hospital at 12.15pm after he was found to be unconscious in his cell and died a week later. His family said that he had suffered from mental health problems but was a “gentle and loving” man.

A file about the arresting officer was sent to prosecutors in March but they ruled there was insufficient evidence for him to be charged with unlawful arrest or that the use of force was unnecessary.

The latest file passed to the CPS this month relates to what happened after Mr Orchard was put in the back of a police van. The package of evidence sent to prosecutors includes CCTV footage taken from inside the cell where he was found unresponsive. The six members of the police staff have been put on restricted duties, despite calls by the watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), that they should be suspended from duty.

The IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “This file of evidence concerns Mr Orchard’s time in custody.

“It will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether criminal charges will be brought against any of those police staff involved in Mr Orchard’s detention on that day.”

The case is the latest in a series of death-in-custody cases involving the mentally ill, including that of the musician Sean Rigg who died at a Brixton police station in 2008 after being restrained and handcuffed.