26th April 2013

An inquest jury has today found communication failures, a failure to adequately monitor James on the journey to Yeovil police station and a failure to call for medical assistance either en route to the police station or at the very latest on arrival may have contributed to James Herbert’s death on 10 June 2010.

James was the only child of Barbara Montgomery and Tony Herbert and was living with his mother at the time of his death. He had suffered mental ill health for several years.

On 10 June 2010 James was seen in public acting strangely. The police were called at around 7pm. Several police officers and members of the public were involved in restraining him and placing him in the back of a police van.

Limb restraints were applied to his ankles, legs and wrists. He was detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act and transported over 27 miles away to Yeovil Police Station (a 40 to 45 minute journey). Upon arrival at the station James was clearly unresponsive. He was carried face down on a blanket from the police van and placed in a cell in the custody suite. His clothes were removed and he was left naked on the floor before officers withdrew from his cell.

The coroner is to write to the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police using his rule 43 powers. He will raise concerns around lack of information gathering and sharing, including from James’ mother at the time of his restraint; and the need to monitor those detained under section 136 during their transportation. The third area of concern is in relation to risk assessment and the need to regularly re-assess the need for medical assistance and restraint of detainees.

James Herbert’s family said:

“We are pleased the jury has recognised the serious failings of the police officers in their duty of care towards James. Evidence throughout the inquest has shown that had the officers responded differently, and treated the situation as a medical emergency, there is every likelihood that James would have survived his ordeal and still been with us today.

“This has been an intense and exhausting few weeks and the combative approach of Avon and Somerset Police, not to mention their unwillingness to admit wrongdoing, have been hard to bear. There have been several instances of some police officers lying in their statements or at the inquest under oath. We may have been able to forgive Avon and Somerset Police had they acted honourably, but they never gave us that chance.

“We can only hope now that lessons will be learned and James’s tragic death may help to make it a safer world for others, particularly for the vulnerable and those struggling with mental illness.”

A full family statement can be found here

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“This is sadly not an isolated case and the issues of concern raised by the jury and coroner are not new. INQUEST is working on too many cases of people suffering mental illness who have died after being restrained by police and there is no evidence that any of the collective learning from these cases is being acted upon.

“Everybody agrees that police custody is an inappropriate and potentially dangerous place for someone experiencing mental ill health. An urgent review must be undertaken into how the police and mental health providers can work together to respond to people in crisis and a new nationwide strategy developed. Without this our fears are that more tragic and preventable deaths will follow.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of James Herbert since his death in 2010. The family is represented at the inquest by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Beth Handley from Hickman and Rose solicitors and barrister Alison Gerry of Doughty Street chambers.


Notes to editors:

  1. INQUEST is working with the families of several people who were experiencing mental illness and who died following contact with the police including Colin Holt, Thomas Orchard, Olaseni Lewis, Sean Rigg, and Kingsley Burrell.
  2. The IPCC’s published statistics on deaths in police custody for 2011/12 revealed that nearly half (7 out 15) of those who died in or following police custody were identified as having mental health problems www.ipcc.gov.uk/Documents/research_stats/Deaths_Report2011-12.PDF
  3. Under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act the police may detain someone they believe is suffering from a mental illness and in need of immediate treatment or care. Section 136 gives authority for the police to take a person from a public place to a “Place of Safety”, either for their own protection or for the protection of others, so that their immediate needs can be properly assessed.