4th April 2013

10am Monday 8 April for 3 weeks
Before HM Coroner Tony Williams, Eastern Somerset District
Venue: Wells Town Hall, Somerset

The inquest into the death of 25 year old James Herbert, who died on 10 June 2010, will begin on Monday 8 April 2013. 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 to Bath Road, Wells, Somerset 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. It was a hot day and James was wearing a winter coat.

Limb restraints were applied to his ankles, legs and wrists. He is said by the police to have been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. He was transported over 27 miles away to Yeovil Police Station (a 40 to 45 minute journey). Upon arrival at the station James 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.

James was observed to be unmoving and unresponsive. CPR was commenced and an ambulance was called. James was transferred to A&E at Yeovil Hospital. After unsuccessful attempts to revive him, James was pronounced dead at 9.20pm.

The family hope the inquest will address the following questions and issues:

  • Whether Avon and Somerset police acted appropriately and proportionately in their response to someone they knew, or ought to have known, was mentally ill
  • Whether adequate attempts were made to avoid the use of force
  • Why members of the public were permitted to be involved in the restraint
  • Why he was driven 27 miles to Yeovil police station instead of being taken to the nearest place of safety that had medical support
  • Whether James was appropriately monitored throughout that journey
  • Why he was deemed fit for detention on arrival at the police station despite his condition and why all his clothing was removed
  • Whether there was a delay in calling for emergency medical assistance
  • Whether the emergency medical response was adequate

James’s parents said:

“On June 10th 2010, our son James, who was 25, died shortly after being detained by Avon and Somerset Police under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. James was a highly intelligent and compassionate person. He had mental health issues but at no time in his life had he ever been violent to others. For us, the loss in such circumstances of our only child was a terrible event, a deep and painful shock and it feels like a light in our lives has been extinguished.

“We hope and pray that at James’s inquest, the light of truth and justice will shine and the lessons learned will at least help the steps to be taken that will prevent other families from experiencing the same agony. James lost his future but our hope is that his tragic death may help others keep theirs.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“This is another shocking death in police custody of a man suffering mental illness. James Herbert was a vulnerable man in need of care and protection who died in the most disturbing circumstances.

“INQUEST is working on too many similar cases raising near-identical questions and concerns about police treatment of vulnerable people with mental health issues. It is vital for the family and the public that there is a thorough and far-reaching inquest into James Herbert’s death, and that action is taken not just locally but at a national level to address what is a serious and ongoing failure to learn lessons.”

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


Notes to editors:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.