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Jury return critical findings in inquest into the death of Colin Holt who died following restraint by police

Tuesday 18 February 2015

Inquest touching on the death of Colin Holt
Maidstone Coroners Court, before Allison Summers, Assistant Coroner

The inquest into the death of Colin Holt concluded today with the jury finding that 3 police officers failed to comply with their duty of care for Colin after he had been restrained in the prone position with his hands cuffed behind his back. The jury found that this position was maintained throughout the restraint of Colin which resulted in the compromise of his breathing and subsequently caused his death by positional asphyxia.

Colin Holt died on 30 August 2010. He suffered from mental health problems and had absconded from the hospital where he had been sectioned. Police were subsequently called and attended his property where they entered and restrained him. Colin had no history of ever behaving in a violent manner and had no criminal convictions.

The inquest at Maidstone Coroners Court heard that the police attending to locate Colin had a statutory power to detain a person absent without leave following a section 2 Mental Health Act Order. However this power did not extend to entering private premises (which requires a warrant to be obtained). The initial police entry into Colin’s property was therefore unlawful, and in excess of their powers.

After two police officers entered the property there was a brief struggle, after which the officers handcuffed Colin and positioned him in a prone position over a chair. A third officer arrived and was also involved in the restraint of Colin before additional officers arrived and paramedics were called. Colin could not be resuscitated and died.

The jury stated that they believed “it was reasonable initially to place Mr Holt in the prone position following the application of handcuffs, however it was not necessary for him to be maintained in this position for the duration of the time whilst under the control of Officers 1 and 2”.

The police officers gave differing accounts of the events during restraint. However, all of the police officers who gave evidence agree that they had a duty of care to ensure a detained person was breathing. The medical experts who gave evidence agreed that, on the balance of probabilities, had Colin be repositioned earlier after he was initially restrained he would not have died. 

The jury concluded that:

  • “On a balance of probabilities the failures of Officers 1 and 2 to re-position Mr Holt after he was handcuffed contributed more than minimally, negligibly or trivially to Mr Holt’s death;
  • When Officer 1 left, Mr Holt  was in an impaired state of consciousness and Officer 2 probably said words to the effect that: Mr Holt is out cold. If Officer 2 said these words he would have been aware that Mr Holt was in an unconscious state which then required first aid/ medical assistance; 
  • When Officer 3 took sole control of Mr Holt he failed to recognise that Mr Holt was in an impaired state of declining consciousness and take any action to re-position Mr Holt and seek assistance. This failure more than minimally, negligibly or trivially contributed to the death of Mr Holt.”

After an IPCC investigation following Colin’s death, two officers were charged with misconduct in public office. They were acquitted at Maidstone Crown Court in May 2013.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“INQUEST is deeply concerned at the high number of police related deaths of people with mental health problems in circumstances involving the use of restraint.

The dangers of positional asphyxiation are well known and yet people are continuing to die, raising questions about police attitudes to restraint including a disregard for the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable people in their care.

This case highlights the lack of learning and accountability from previous deaths and the need for rigorous oversight and monitoring of police use of force.”

Sharon Holt, Colin Holt’s sister and David Holt, Colin Holt’s brother said:

“Our brother Colin is greatly missed. The only thing we have of him are our fond memories which can never be taken away from us.

The investigations into his tragic death have been a long and extremely traumatic time for the whole family.  Colin died in August 2010 and our Mum sadly passed away in April 2013 so she was never able to hear any answers as to the circumstances of his death.

The authorities that had a duty of care in helping Colin failed him and the family miserably. They abused their position of trust.

Colin had no previous convictions and no history of violence.  We were appalled by the evidence we heard, officers’ accounts differed, there was a catalogue of failure and our brother was treated in an inhumane way.  The jury have concluded what we have always believed that the actions and inactions of the police officers who restrained Colin caused his death.

We were disgusted to hear that two of the officers involved in Colin’s death, instead of taking responsibility, are suing the Chief Constable for Kent for £50,000 each.

We would like to thank our lawyers Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and David Bentley QC of Doughty Street Chambers, the coroner Allison Summers and the jury for their sensitivity in the handling of this inquest, and Andy Ryden and Allex of the IPCC.

God bless you Colin.“

INQUEST is working with the family of Colin Holt.  The family is being represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Mark Scott and Rachel Etheridge of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and David Bentley QC from Doughty Street Chambers.

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