11 October 2021

Leyland Police Station
27 September – 11 October 2021

Kelly Hartigan-Burns, 35, died after she was found unresponsive in a cell at Greenbank Police Station in Blackburn at around 1.30am on 4 December 2016, having self-ligatured. A Lancashire police misconduct process examining the actions of a former Police Sergeant involved has now concluded.

It was found that Police Sergeant Jason Marsden did breach professional standards and this was gross misconduct. Mr Marsden, 51, retired just under a month before the hearing. The sanction for gross misconduct in this case would have been dismissal without notice, had he still been in post. He has been barred from working in the police in future.


Kelly’s family describe her as a bright and positive person. She had a history of mental ill health, self-harm and alcohol misuse and 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 her partner Cal’s home in Darwen after an argument. Members of the public reported seeing her running in and out of traffic 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. 

After being discovered unresponsive in a cell, Kelly was taken to hospital and put on life support where on 5 December 2016 she was pronounced dead. An inquest into Kelly’s death is scheduled for early 2022.

June Hartigan, Kelly’s mother, said: “Kelly was loved by everyone that met her, she was beautiful and sensitive. She loved spending time with family, arranging meals and holidays. She worried about people that were struggling and always tried to help them.

Unfortunately, she had faced significant challenges, including the traumatic death of her father and a recent car accident, which contributed to her mental ill health. She worked part time while studying and successfully gained a degree. She had made plans in her diary up to Easter of the next year.

All she needed was a calm place to rest the night, de-stress and she would have been right as rain. There is no way her life should have ended alone in this way; it breaks our heart daily.

We miss her so much and I don’t think this pain will ever fade. We have waited so long for answers. Taking over five years to get to this point is ridiculous, it is very painful finding out facts now. This hearing has helped the family to get nearer to the truth about what happened, it should ensure this never happens to others.”

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. She was treated with indifference and a lack of dignity or care.

While this critical finding is welcome, it has taken far too long to get to this point. The officer was able to retire early, weeks before this hearing, and there are no sanctions for him. Yet again police officers are able to evade responsibility and accountability for deaths.

It is to the inquest that the family must now turn to seek more answers about Kelly’s experiences. However, the evidence heard at this hearing must prompt national learning and action.”

Carolynn Gallwey of Bhatt Murphy, who represent the family, said: “While this outcome offers the first vindication finally of the family’s concerns that proper care was not taken of Kelly, it is nothing sort of appalling that they have had to wait almost five years to hear it.  They now look forward to the inquest next year, which they trust will fully expose and interrogate the evidence for all to see.” 


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.

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.

Kelly’s partner Cal sadly died in 2020 before learning the details of what happened to her.

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.