24 September 2021

Leyland Police Station
Lancastergate, Leyland, PR25 2EX
Begins 10am, 27 September – 15 October 2021

Kelly Hartigan-Burns, 35, was found unresponsive in a cell at Greenbank Police Station in Blackburn at around 1.30am on 4 December 2016, having self-ligatured. She was taken to hospital and put on life support where on 5 December 2016 she was pronounced dead.

Now a police misconduct hearing will take place to examine the actions of the Lancashire police officer charged with her care at the station. It is alleged that, “his management… fell short of the standards of a competent custody officer in failing to correctly apply applicable legislation, the Authorised Professional Practice and/or the Code of Ethics”. However, the officer Police Sergeant Jason Marsden, 51, retired just under a month ago.

Kelly’s family describe her as bright and positive. She was training to be an accountant after leaving school and making plans for the future. However, this was impacted by the sudden and traumatic death of her father. She lived with her civil partner, Cal. Cal sadly died in 2020 before learning the details of what happened to her.

Kelly had a history of mental ill health, self-harm and alcohol misuse. She was under the care of community mental health professionals in East Lancashire NHS Trust. At the end of November 2016, Kelly’s family became increasingly concerned about her.

On 3 December 2016, Kelly walked out of her and Cal’s home in Darwen, Lancashire after an argument. Members of the public reported seeing her on a main road in her pyjamas. Lancashire police officers attended and took her home, where Cal explained that she was vulnerable and needed care, and that things had just got out of hand. 

Kelly was however not detained under mental health powers but was arrested for common assault and taken to Green Bank Police Station, still in her pyjamas. Sergeant Marsden was charged with booking Kelly into custody, and there is evidence that he failed to conduct an adequate assessment of the risk Kelly faced. 

The police misconduct hearing will now take place from Monday 27 September 2021, and is scheduled for three weeks. An inquest into Kelly’s death is scheduled for early 2022. Kelly’s family have already waited almost 5 years to find out for themselves how she died and whether any officer will finally be held to account. 

June Hartigan, Kelly’s mother, said: “Kelly was loved by everyone that met her, she was doing fantastic at a young age. She loved spending time with family and was very supportive, always trying to help people if they were struggling.

Unfortunately, she had faced significant challenges, including traumatic bereavements and car accidents, which contributed to her mental ill health. However, during her recovery she worked part time while studying to successfully gain a degree and was making plans for the future.

I miss her so much; it is heart wrenching and I don’t think this pain will ever change. We have waited so long for answers and I often worry that she has been forgotten. I hope this hearing can begin to help us understand the truth about what happened, and make sure it never happens again.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “It is clear that Kelly was a woman in crisis, in need of care and specialist support – not custody. Serious questions must now be asked of the officers who allowed her detention and failed to keep her safe. This family has waited far too long for answers and accountability. It is vital that this hearing proceeds with urgency to begin to address that.”

Carolynn Gallwey of Bhatt Murphy, who represent the family, said: “Kelly’s family have waited with great dignity and patience, for almost five years for the facts of her death to be the subject of any public scrutiny – this hearing is hugely important for them but also for public confidence in the police. We hope that all concerned will put those concerns front and centre”.


For further information, photos and to note your interest, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]

More information is available on the Lancashire Police website. You must register to attend the hearing via Lancashire police. Limited space is available.

The family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Carolynn Gallwey of Bhatt Murphy and Fiona Murphy of Doughty Street Chambers. They are supported by INQUEST caseworker Caroline Finney.

Journalists should refer to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting suicide and self-harm and guidance for reporting on inquests.

Deaths of women in police custody: The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report that between 2005 and 2021 (March) there were 38 deaths of women in or following police custody. Further information is available in the IOPC statistics.

  • Claire Harper, 41, was found unconscious and unresponsive in a police cell in West Yorkshire and later died in hospital in 2018. The inquest is awaited.
  • Miranda Stevenson, 42, died a ‘sudden death during alcohol and drug withdrawal’ at Guildford Police station on 31 May 2015. An inquest jury found that Miranda died suddenly following abnormal breathing recorded on CCTV at 7.29pm. Despite multiple ‘welfare checks’ she remained in her cell for a further 12 hours until an officer entered the following morning at 7.15am.
  • Martine Brandon, died a self-inflicted death at Southampton Central police station in 2014. She had used clothing which had not been removed. She had been arrested rather than detained under mental health powers. An inquest found serious failings in the care she received, including in communication and monitoring.
  • Sharmila Ullah, 30, died in 2014 after she was held at Bloxwich police station. Whilst in police custody she became unwell and was taken to hospital. She was returned to the police station the next day. The inquest concluded her death was likely due to the effects of withdrawal. A police officer was sacked for gross misconduct for failing to conduct cell visits which had been documented.
  • Toni Speck, 31, was found slumped in a police cell and later died in hospital in 2011. She was detained by North Yorkshire Police under the mental health act. The jury concluded that the nurse called to the cell should have realised she required urgent treatment.