Police officers under criminal investigation over death of man with epilepsy but still on the streets

Duncan Tomlin was having a seizure when officers mistook his behaviour for violence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The family of a man with epilepsy who died after being restrained by police have learned that the officers involved are still on the beat.

Duncan Tomlin, 32, died two days after going into cardiac arrest in a police van in Haywards Heath on 26 July and falling into a coma, according to his family.

Five Sussex Police officers are under criminal investigation following his death, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) announced today, but they have not been suspended from their jobs.

Mr Tomlin’s family are calling for the force to take them off the streets in the public interest, saying the officers should not be allowed to continue “working as normal” when a life has been lost.

“It is almost five months since Duncan died and our family are still devastated and unable to come to terms with the loss of Duncan,” a statement said.

“We need answers to the events surrounding his death. We hope this development will assist with achieving that.

“We continue to expect the IPCC to conduct its investigation in a timely and robust manner, ensuring that the resources required to achieve this are available and deployed in order to provide us with those answers.”

Mr Tomlin was spending his evening with his girlfriend and friends as normal on the night he was restrained, his family said, but when he fell into a complex partial seizure, a neighbour mistook his shouting for an argument and called the police.

Officers arrived as their suspect walked out of the house in a confused state - behaviour that his family said was routine for the man and is well-known among epilepsy sufferers.

“He wandered out into the garden as the police arrived and they assumed he was violent,” his aunt, who did not want to be named, told The Independent.

“His girlfriend told the police he was having a seizure, she shouted at them to stop, but they ignored her.

“They pushed him to the ground and three police officers sat on his chest to restrain him, at which point he had a heart attack.

“But they didn’t realise and put him in the van.”

Minutes after the van set off, the police stopped in a nearby road and took Mr Tomlin out to administer CPR because he was not breathing. An ambulance took him to hospital, where he never recovered consciousness and died two days later.

Mr Tomlin’s uncle, Simon, said he had not committed any offence and claimed officers used “excessive force”.

“He was already having the seizure and we feel they used excessive force when he was on the ground,” he said following his son’s death.

“We feel that apart from our personal interest, there’s a huge public interest in this because it affects people with epilepsy and people with autism and other issues.”

The IPCC initially served a sergeant and four constables with gross misconduct notices and said they have now been informed of the criminal investigation.

“The five officers will be interviewed by IPCC investigators, under criminal caution, in the New Year,” a spokesperson said.

The police watchdog would not confirm that Mr Tomlin was having an epileptic seizure or what method of restraint was used, saying he was “placed in a police van with three officers where he became unresponsive”.

The IPCC stressed that notice of criminal investigation or misconduct does not carry an assumption of guilt but informs officers of the severity of the investigation.

A spokesperson said investigators have obtained statements from “significant” witnesses, viewed CCTV footage of the incident and reviewed initial statements from officers involved made on the night.

He added: “IPCC investigators are examining the actions of officers, including the restraint used on Mr Tomlin in the street and in the rear of the police van, and the medical treatment provided by them.”

Sussex Police said they were unable to "comment on the specifics" of Mr Tomlin's death.

"Our thoughts and condolences are with the man's family and friends and we are working closely with the IPCC in support of their investigation," a spokesperson added.

"The officers concerned have not been suspended and are continuing their duties with Sussex Police."

The investigation continues.