CCTV shows Thomas Orchard being restrained by police before collapse

Thomas Orchard: Family condemn decision to end misconduct proceedings over police custody death

32-year-old church caretaker with paranoid schizophrenia died in hospital after being arrested and having emergency response belt placed over his face

Chiara Giordano
Thursday 24 October 2019 19:04

The family of a mentally ill man who died after being restrained in police custody say they “cannot comprehend” a decision to end misconduct proceedings.

Thomas Orchard, 32, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, died in hospital a week after being arrested and taken to Heavitree Road police station in Exeter, Devon, in October 2012.

During his detention, the church caretaker was restrained and an emergency response belt was placed across his face for five minutes and two seconds to prevent biting or spitting.

A police sergeant and two detention officers were found not guilty of Mr Orchard’s manslaughter by gross negligence following a trial at Bristol Crown Court in 2017.

The following year, in a landmark conviction, the office of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police pleaded guilty to breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

A judge fined the force £234,500 and ordered it to pay £20,515 in prosecution costs.

In July, an independent panel dismissed misconduct proceedings against four officers in relation to the case, stating that they could not have a fair hearing.

And on Thursday, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) announced that it had withdrawn a decision to direct misconduct hearings for two detention officers involved.

Mr Orchard’s family said the move felt “outrageously and ethically wrong”, and that they have been “let down by the IOPC”.

They added: “As a family we are completely unable to comprehend how people who were charged with manslaughter can now be allowed to face absolutely no scrutiny for their work practices in relation to Thomas’ death.

“We call upon the coroner to examine the circumstances surrounding Thomas’ death publicly, openly, honestly and constructively.”

In February 2018, the IOPC directed that six officers and staff should face misconduct hearings relating to their involvement in the detention of Mr Orchard.

Alison and Ken Orchard, the parents of Thomas Orchard, speak outside Bristol Crown Court in March 2017.

The two detention officers, who fall under different regulations to the police officers, would have faced a separate hearing.

Sarah Green, regional director for the IOPC, acknowledged that it had been a “traumatic process for everyone involved” and that it had taken “far too long”.

She added: “It is commonly in the public interest to refer matters where there is a case to answer for gross misconduct to a hearing to be tested.

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“However on balance, having considered representations from interested parties, I have decided to withdraw the direction in these unusual circumstances.

“It follows that I accept the recommendations of Devon and Cornwall Police that neither staff member should face disciplinary proceedings.”

In May, a judge at Bristol Crown Court ruled he could not be sure that the emergency response belt – a tough webbing belt designed to restrain limbs – was a contributory factor in Mr Orchard’s death.

Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, said the force admitting that it had committed a health and safety offence was a “key factor” in the IOPC’s decision.

He added: “Whilst I welcome today’s decision, I understand the significant impact of this long-running matter on staff, officers and their families, and of course the family of Thomas Orchard.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.