Before HM Assistant Coroner Delroy Henry
Warwickshire Coroner’s Court
28 May to 25 June 2019

Today a jury has returned a narrative conclusion at the inquest into the death of Darren Cumberbatch, finding that the police’s restraint of Darren contributed to his death. They also found that ineffective communication and the lack of a meaningful plan in responding to Darren was a serious failure. The medical cause of death was multiple organ failure as a result of cocaine use in association with restraint and related physical exertion.

Darren Cumberbatch was 32 years old when he died in hospital in Warwickshire on 19 July 2017, nine days after use of force by police officers whilst he was experiencing a mental health crisis. He was one of five black men to die following use of force by police in 2017.

The jury also found:

  • Before police entered the toilet area their communications were ineffective and no meaningful plan was established regarding 1) their entrance into the toilet area or 2) what they would do when inside the toilet area. This was a serious failure.
  • Inadequate de-escalation attempts were made by police.
  • The police used considerable restraint on Darren at McIntyre House including baton strikes, other physical strikes, multiple punches, stamping, PARVA spray, Tasers and handcuffing. Some of this restraint may have been excessive and, at times, was probably avoidable
  • Some of the police restraint in the hospital car park may have been excessive and, at times, was probably avoidable.
  • The police’s restraint of Darren contributed to his death.

Darren’s sister describes him as a loving, quick-witted, and bubbly man who would help anyone. He was a qualified electrician and had worked for ten years at the Lear Corporation. Darren was released from prison on 30 May 2017 and was looking forward to a positive future. He was living at McIntyre House bail hostel in Nuneaton, when on 10 July 2017 at 12.23am staff contacted police to raise concerns about his behaviour. Darren, who was known to have experienced depression and anxiety, appeared agitated, paranoid and afraid.

Shortly after police officers arrived, Darren went into a small toilet cubicle. The police officers waited outside for about 10 minutes. They were then joined by officers carrying Tasers, seven of whom entered the cubicle. There was disputed evidence at the inquest as to whether Darren was posing a threat to the officers at that time. In the course of the next ten minutes Darren was struck with batons, Tasers were discharged three times, PAVA incapacitant spray was directed at him, and officers used multiple closed first punches and stamped on him. All inside the small cubicle.

Darren was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the ground of the cubicle. He was then restrained in the prone position (chest down) outside the toilet area and was further restrained as he was taken to a police van. Officers giving evidence to the inquest said that they recognised that Darren needed emergency treatment in hospital, and asked the hostel staff to contact the ambulance service, but without giving any guidance as to Darren’s symptoms or his condition. Officers told the inquest that they had recognised that Darren was suffering from Acute Behavioural Disorder (ABD) or Excited Delirium, however they did not inform the ambulance service that this was their concern. 

Officers took Darren to the car park of George Elliot Hospital at around 1.10am. He was taken out of the van and restrained on the ground by four officers. Whilst handcuffed, further restraints were applied to his thighs and ankles. When he was taken into the emergency department, jurors heard evidence that Darren was hyperventilating, sweating and his heart rate and temperature were very high.

Darren was restrained intermittently at the hospital, including a sustained period of nine minutes of restraint and an additional six minutes of restraint after that. He appeared distressed, asked for help and referred to the handcuffs being too tight. Darren had disclosed to doctors that he had taken half a gram of cocaine and cannabis.

The inquest heard that Darren was very ill by the time of this arrival at A&E department, where he remained in mechanical restraints at the hospital for over an hour. He was admitted for treatment, but his health continued to decline and he died on 19 July. A pathologist, Dr Hunt, gave evidence that he was confident that the restraint had contributed to the fatal outcome.

Carla Cumberbatch, sister of Darren said: Having been involved with the investigations since Darren’s death, and sat through three weeks of evidence, I welcome the jury’s conclusions.

Hopefully something good can come out of Darren’s death, and this will raise awareness of the need for police officers to keep restraint to a minimum. I hope that progress can be made so that officers comply with their training which would ensure fewer fatalities. All citizens need equal rights and justice and to be treated with compassion and care.”

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said: There is no justification for the brutal use of force Warwickshire police deployed against Darren. He was struck by batons, Tasered, sprayed with an incapacitant, punched, stamped on and restrained. Such violence is no way to respond to a man experiencing a mental health crisis, agitated, paranoid and afraid.

This death occurred in the context of a systemic pattern of disproportionate use of force against black men. The Angiolini review into deaths in police custody made pragmatic recommendations to address this ongoing failure, which we call on the Government to urgently enact.”

Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose solicitors said: The jury have returned a strong narrative conclusion following the death of Darren Cumberbatch in the custody of Warwickshire Police. 

They found that "police used considerable restraint on Darren including baton strikes other physical strikes, multiple punches, stamping, PAVA spray, Tasers and handcuffing" and that "the police's restraint of Darren contributed to his death."

The jury found that Darren was clearly suffering from ABD before the police used considerable restraint on him. This is another tragic preventable death: nationally and across all sectors including probation hostels those who show symptoms of ABD must be treated as medical emergencies to avoid restraint-related deaths.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

For more information contact Sarah Uncles on [email protected] or 07584045879.

The family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members, Kate Maynard and Helen Stone of Hickman & Rose Solicitors, and Fiona Murphy of Doughty Street Chambers.

Other interested persons represented at this inquest were:

  1. Chief Constable of Warwickshire police
  2. George Elliot Hospital NHS Trust
  3. National Probation Service
  4. Dr Krishnan Kumar
  5. Independent Office for Police Conduct

The family and supporters have been campaigning for justice on the Facebook page Justice 4 Daz.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) most recent annual statistics on deaths during or following police contact in England and Wales, published on 25 July 2018 showed:

  • There were 23 deaths in or following police custody, the highest figure recorded in the past 14 years, and an increase of nine since last year.
  • Seventeen of the people who died in or following police custody or other contact, including Edir, were restrained or had force used against them by the police or others before their deaths.
  • 12 of the 23 people who died in or following police custody had mental health concerns.

See the INQUEST media release and our rolling statistics on deaths in or following police contact for further information.

In 2017, as well as Darren, INQUEST are aware of the following restraint related deaths of black men, three of whom died within four weeks of Darrens death:

  • 21 June 2017 – Edir Frederico Da Costa known as Edson, 25, died in East London following restraint by police.
  • 15 July 2017 - Shane Bryant, 29, died in Leicestershire following restraint by members of public and police two days earlier.
  • 22 July 2017 - Rashan Charles, 20, died in Hackney, East London following restraint by police.
  • 24 November 2017 - Nuno Cardoso, 25, died in Oxford following restraint by police.

The following year, on 3 March 2018, Kevin Clarke, 35, black man experiencing mental ill health died in Lewisham, South London, following restraint by police officers.

In December 2018, the Home Office published the first national statistics on police use of force (April 2017-March 2018). Black people were overrepresented, as subject in 12% of incidents but representing only 3.3% of the general population. See INQUEST media release for more information.

In October 2017 the landmark Independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody by Dame Elish Angiolini QC was published. In December 2018, the Home Office published a report on progress on deaths in police custody.

Angiolini’s review found that police practice must recognise that all restraint can cause death and made a series of recommendations on the use of force and restraint more broadly. She also made recommendations on institutional racism, as well as on intoxicated subjects. The progress report by the Government does not mention any progress on these important recommendations, despite commitments in their original response to the review.

The Bishops review of the experiences of families affected by Hillsborough calls for important changes in the response to state related deaths and includes recommendations on:

  • Cultural change at inquests which would ensure the process is not adversarial, but inquisitorial as intended, upheld by relevant Secretaries of State who should make clear how public bodies should approach inquests.
  • A ‘Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy’in which public bodies would commit to placing the public interest above their reputation and approach forms of public scrutiny such as inquiries and inquests with candour.

In February, INQUEST launched a new campaign - Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests. We are calling for the introduction of automatic legal aid funding for bereaved families following state related deaths.