CPS TO PROSECUTE POLICE OFFICERS OVER THOMAS ORCHARD DEATH

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest for the custody sergeant and two detention officers involved in the restraint of Thomas Orchard at Heavitree Road police station on 3 October 2012 to be charged with unlawful act manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter and misconduct in a public office.

A criminal investigation into potential health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences committed by Devon and Cornwall Police remains ongoing and will be decided in 2015.

Thomas’s family said:

“We welcome today’s decision; it makes us cautiously optimistic that justice will be done for our much loved son and brother. Most importantly, we think that members of the public will get the chance to decide questions of criminal responsibility. 

Public trust in the police force and the justice system demands a robust prosecution; we hope that the public will be interested in this case and join us in our demand for rigour and fairness from our justice system.

Our thoughts today are also with the families of others who have died in police custody and who feel that there should have also been prosecutions in their cases. Whilst we know they will be happy for us, we understand that today’s news will have increased their sense of injustice and their feelings of frustration; we can only hope that this decision to prosecute heralds a more robust approach by the IPCC and CPS to deaths in police custody in the future.

Our thanks go to our solicitor, Beth Handley, of Hickman and Rose and all those who support us, especially our family and friends and staff at INQUEST. We could not have navigated the past 2¼ years without them and we know how much we will need their support for the fight ahead.”

Caroline Lucas MP said: 

I welcome the charging of three Police officers in relation to the death of Thomas Orchard.  It’s been an appalling wait for his family following such an extended and delayed investigative process.  Now that charges have at last been brought, a small but essential step towards getting justice in Thomas’s case has been taken.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

"We welcome the CPS decision today. Thomas Orchard's family have had to wait an unacceptably long time for answers and any accountability in relation to his death. This is an important first step to achieving this.

There has been significant public and parliamentary disquiet about the process for holding the police to account. Custodial deaths need to be treated in the same way as criminal investigations into any other deaths. No family should have to wait over 2 years for the criminal process into the deaths of their loved ones to come before the court.

We call on the Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall police to now suspend the three officers charged today and those officers still under investigation by the IPCC until the prosecution and investigatory processes are concluded."

Beth Handley, solicitor at Hickman and Rose said:

This is an important decision and one which Thomas Orchard’s family have been waiting for well over a year since the CPS received the files of evidence from the IPCC.  Justice requires that the criminal justice process ahead should proceed both robustly and speedily. 

A decision is still awaited as to whether the Chief Constable should face corporate manslaughter and/or health and safety charges on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police.  Thomas Orchard’s family urge Devon and Cornwall Police to cooperate fully with the further IPCC and Health and Safety investigations to enable that decision to be taken without delay. 

At this juncture it is also important that the Chief Constable should review the decision not to suspend any officer or staff member subject of the IPCC investigation into Thomas’ death despite calls that they should do so from both the IPCC and Thomas Orchard’s family.  The custody sergeant and detention officers facing very serious charges should now be suspended in the public interest”

Background information

Thomas Orchard died on 10 October 2012, aged 32, having never regained consciousness after suffering a cardiac arrest in custody of Devon and Cornwall Police at Heavitree Road police station on 3 October 2012. 

Thomas had a history of mental illness and a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  At the time of his death he was settled in supported accommodation and working as a caretaker at his local church.  After a long period of stability, Thomas’ mental health had suffered a sharp decline in the days leading up to his arrest and detention by Devon and Cornwall police officers.

Thomas’ restraint at Heavitree Road police station involved the use of an Emergency Response Belt (EBR) fastened across his face as a “spit hood”.  In November 2012 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) wrote to all chief constables to raise a concern about the risk arising from such use of the ERB.

Delay

The CPS decision comes more than 15 months after the IPCC passed a file of evidence to the CPS in relation to potential charges of manslaughter and perverting the course of justice against three police officers, two custody detention staff and a custody nurse in July 2013.   Thomas Orchard’s family had raised significant concerns about delay, culminating in a meeting with Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, on 10 July 2014.

INQUEST has been working with the family of Thomas Orchard since his death in 2012.  The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group member Beth Handley of Hickman and Rose.

Neither the family, INQUEST or the solicitors will be making any further comment at this time.

Ends

Please see CPS decision letter

See INQUEST's statistics on Unlawful Killing verdicts and Prosecutions