29 September 2023

Before Assistant Coroner Mr David Regan
South Wales Central Coroner’s Court
18-29 September 2023 

Leighton Dickens, a 39-year-old White man from Cardiff, died a self-inflicted death at his home on 14 October 2020. 

In the hours before his death, Leighton’s partner called for assistance from South Wales police, raising serious concerns about his mental health. An inquest has now concluded that Leighton died as a result of a missed opportunity by South Wales police to detain him, after police left the couple outside A&E with no support.

The coroner will now be making a report with recommendations to prevent future deaths to three Welsh health boards and the Welsh government.

Leighton’s partner, Rhiannon Williams, described him as a bright star who had the habit of making everyone around feel happy and cared for. Leighton was a well known and loved character in the underground music scene in Cardiff, who supported and championed upcoming artists and was himself a talented lyricist and DJ. He had a signature sense of style: patterned denim suits and bucket hats.

Leighton had experienced hard times and traumas in his life and, despite his loving character, at times exhibited distressed and unpredictable behaviour. 

On 14 October 2020, Rhiannon had been trying to drive Leighton back to his property in the middle of the night, when his behaviour had caused her to become concerned for his safety, as well as her own safety and that of her children. 

She discretely called 999 and later flagged down South Wales police officers, who stopped at the car at around 5am. They noticed that Leighton was in nothing but a dressing gown with no shoes on and there were visible signs of multiple self-harm injuries. 

Police had been told that Leighton was pulling at the steering wheel and the handbrake, and observed that he was later curled up in the foetal position on the floor of the police van repeating “I’m sorry” on the way to hospital. 

Police briefly attended University Hospital of Wales A&E with the couple, before Leighton’s behaviour drastically changed. He became argumentative, left the entrance of A&E, and filmed the officers, repeatedly asking if he was under arrest. 

One of the junior officers called their supervisor for advice, following which officers told Rhiannon that she was a responsible adult, they had brought Leighton to a “place of safety”, and that there was nothing more they could do.

A place of safety has a specific legal meaning (under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983). It was confirmed during the course of the inquest that this A&E department is not in fact a designated place of safety under South Wales police policy. In any event, outside A&E (where the officers and Leighton were at the time) is certainly not a designated place of safety in the law.

Police have the power to detain people in mental health crisis under the Mental Health Act and take them to a designated place of safety. Instead, in her evidence to the jury Rhiannon said that one of the officers told her that Leighton simply needed to “sleep it off” and suggested he “walk home”. 

She felt she had no choice but to drive Leighton back to his flat, but Rhiannon did not feel safe to go in with him. Still fearful for his life, she called the police again, distraught, and said she was “leaving him there not knowing if the next person that walks in there is going to find him dead.”

By the time officers returned and forced entry into Leighton’s flat, it was too late – her worst fear had come true. 

On 28 September 2023, an inquest jury at South Wales Central Coroner’s Court unanimously concluded that Leighton died as a result of a missed opportunity by South Wales police to detain him under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

The jury found Leighton died by hanging in circumstances where intention could not be ascertained. In a short narrative the jury added that there was a missed opportunity on the part of the police to not detain until he was assessed by a mental health professional. 

The coroner will be issuing a Prevention of Future Deaths report due to his concern that South Wales police officers are now less well supported following the removal of the mental health triage service in April 2023, through which officers could seek advice from a mental health nurse between the hours of 9am – 1am. 

The report will be copied to three separate health boards (Cwf Taf, Cardiff and Vale, Swansea) and the Welsh government. South Wales police will have 56 days to provide a response.

Leighton’s partner, Rhiannon Williams, said: “At around 5am on 14 October 2020, I called the police for help. I was desperately worried about Leighton and his mental health. I was afraid for his safety and mine. I didn’t know what else to do. 

For almost three years I have been reliving the worst night of my life and the complete and utter helplessness I felt when the police left us outside A&E. I put my trust and faith in the police that night, but they let us down

It is hard to hear that a unanimous jury agreed that this was a missed opportunity by the police to detain him so that he could get the help he needed. Everything that I did on that night and that I have done since has been for Leighton. 

He was the brightest of stars, the love of my life, and I miss him every day.”

Emma Gilbert, of IKP Solicitors who represent Rhiannon, said: It is painful to imagine the horror that Rhiannon went through that night and every day since. She made a desperate cry for help for the safety of her and her loved one only to be abandoned when she and Leighton needed it most. 

When they took the stand, it became clear that the officers’ had an incorrect understanding of their power under the Mental Health Act, including the supervising officer PS Thomas Harrison. 

More needs to be done to ensure that officers are trained to recognise mental health crises and offer a compassionate response with a proper understanding of their powers.

Jordan Ferdinand-Sargeant, caseworker at INQUEST said: “Rhiannon had no other choice but to seek help from the police when her partner was in mental health crisis. 

Once again, she and Leighton’s experiences demonstrate that police are too often unable to support people with mental ill health to access the care they need. 

Public policy and practice must urgently move away from police as first responders to people in mental health crisis. We need alternatives which centre a healthcare led response in the community.” 


For more information and a photo of Leighton, contact:
Lucy McKay on
[email protected] or 020 7263 1111

A photo of Leighton is available here

Rhiannon Williams, the partner of Leighton Dickens, was represented by Emma Gilbert and Daniel Lemberger Cooper of Imran Khan and Partners Solicitors and Jake Taylor of Doughty Street Chambers. They are supported by INQUEST Caseworker Jordan Ferdinand-Sargeant.

The other Interested Persons in the Inquest were: Leighton’s mother, South Wales police, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.