Select Page

Devon and Cornwall Police have pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches after a belt was used on a man with mental health problems before he collapsed in custody. Thomas Orchard, 32, died in hospital seven days after being arrested and taken to Heavitree Road police station in Exeter, Devon, in October 2012.

During his detention Mr Orchard, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was restrained and an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) was placed across his face.

He was then left in a locked cell, where he lay apparently motionless for 12 minutes before custody staff re-entered and started CPR.

In March 2017, a custody sergeant and two staff members from Devon and Cornwall Police were acquitted of Mr Orchard’s manslaughter by gross negligence.

A year later, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it had charged the office of the chief constable of the force under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

This alleges that the force failed to ensure non-employees, including Mr Orchard, were not exposed to risks in connection with the ERB.

Shaun Sawyer, the chief constable, appeared at Bristol Crown Court on behalf of the force on Friday and entered a guilty plea to the single charge against it.

The court heard the issue of whether the breaches caused Mr Orchard’s death has not been resolved between prosecution and defence teams.

Judge Julian Lambert will decide on the issue during a hearing, expected to last for three days, in April next year.

A sentencing hearing, in which the force is expected to receive a fine, will take place in May.

Speaking outside court, Mr Orchard’s parents said they were “shocked and horrified” that Devon and Cornwall Police denied the breaches contributed to his death.

“For over six years Devon and Cornwall Police have consistently refused to accept any responsibility for Thomas’ needless and avoidable death,” Ken Orchard said. Read more

Related news: Asylum seekers could contribute £42m to UK if allowed to work, finds study. Read more