3 May 2019

This is the victim impact statement prepared by Thomas’ family.  The family were not permitted to read the statement in court and only certain sections (read by counsel for the prosecution) were considered relevant.  A full version of the original statement is here:

"Everything in our lives is measured as having taken place either before or after Thomas died, such was the trauma of his death.

Thomas was a wonderful human being who was loved dearly by his family and we think about him with sadness every day. We miss his quirky sense of humour, his oftentimes deep and perceptive comments and his huge presence. We miss witnessing the fulfilment he found in everyday life and his faith; his love of runner beans and cats; crosses and candles.

Many years ago his life had been troubled. However, he had made real progress, and we were so proud that he was living semi-independently and happily. He had found purpose with his second family at St Thomas’ Church, he was a regular at his local gym and it was heartbreaking to open his post after he died to find that his provisional driving license had arrived; he was so looking forward to learning to drive.

To have had Thomas taken from us so early in his life means we grieve doubly for him. Firstly, we grieve the hole his death has left us with, and secondly we grieve the future that was taken from him; he didn’t see his brother married and he isn’t there to see his nephews grow.

The impact on us, and many of those in our lives, has been devastating. Since the trauma and ordeal that began on October 3rd, 2012 - from the moments that we first became aware that something had happened to Thomas, to sitting at his bedside night and day in hospital for a week hoping that he would recover, to switching off the life support machine and washing his body before placing it in a body bag - our lives have been irreparably changed and damaged.

What our family has endured in the last six and a half years since his death has compounded our distress beyond measure. We have been emotionally, socially, physically, financially and essentially diminished.

Our partners and children have often felt we were absent and withdrawn as the events of the last six and a half years have occupied so much of our minds and our hearts. Again this increased dramatically during the months of the trials as we were literally absent from our homes and our relationships.

We have struggled to understand the process and the content of the investigation, we have worked hard to understand complex legal and medical issues, we have had to fight for information every step of the way and we have faced, what seem like endless and unnecessary delays; we were not allowed to have Thomas’ body until seven months after his death and we didn’t have access to much of the evidence until two years had passed. We still wait for disciplinary hearings and for a possible inquest.  Furthermore, we have been constantly advised to share our thoughts and knowledge with no-one else, not even our wider family and friends, so we have had to do it all alone and we have been unable to speak out or express our own personal opinions. Indeed, we are not able to say all we would like to today; it’s as if we are gagged.

Before the decision to charge was made we committed huge amounts of our time and energy in trying to put our thoughts and feelings to those in positions of influence. We have had a series of meetings with solicitors, MPs, the IOPC, the CPS, the HSE, the then Police Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall and even the then Director of Public Prosecutions. It has been draining and on many occasions, we have felt powerless and out of our depth as we have struggled to communicate with a system that didn’t seem used to communicating with ordinary people, particularly ordinary people in the midst of grief. Learning to fight whilst grieving has proved to be so stressful and hard.

This hearing has been the culmination of these six and a half years of difficulty. If we felt our lives were on hold in the early days, then this increased 100 fold whilst at Bristol Crown Court for two trials and a hearing. It felt important for us to attend the legal proceedings. It felt respectful to Thomas that we witnessed his pain and his death and were there to play our part in holding those responsible to account.

We wanted to hear the defendants’ accounts; we wanted to see their faces, to see their eyes, as they told their side of the story. We wanted to try to make sense of it all – to try to understand how this catastrophic outcome could have occurred. The apparently unfeeling and remorseless attitude of some who took the witness box was difficult to experience. It has been hard to hear Thomas defined as an ‘angry man’ when we know he would have been a frightened one, to hear his behaviour described as ‘violent’ at times when we know he was fighting for his life; to hear the effect of his detention compared to that of the capture of a ‘non-human animal’; and to hear that officers thought he was ‘sleeping’ or ‘compliant’ when we know he was probably unconscious or even dead.

It's been painful to witness how an organisation, which had a duty of care for Thomas, was so casual disorganised and sloppy in their approach to health and safety. Perhaps the hardest thing to hear was how Thomas’ detention could have - and should have - been managed. A piece of equipment – the ERB – was used in a criminally unsafe manner around his face and we often wonder how Thomas’ life – and our lives – would have been different had senior officers in charge of Health and Safety for the Devon and Cornwall Police force done their job properly.

In all this time we have never had a simple apology or genuine acknowledgement that something went horribly wrong that day. It feels simply inhuman.

Our faith in the Police force has also been severely tarnished because of what has happened to Thomas. And, because we have now heard about serious – systemic - breaches in their Health and Safety practices as well as listened to inconsistent and conflicting accounts from trainers and trainees alike, we are not confident that failures have been recognized and genuine changes have been made. We fear that other safety issues may remain unidentified, that others may be at risk and, from a personal perspective, we are fearful of how we would be treated if we needed to call the Police.

We grieve for Thomas, for the difficulties he experienced in his life, for his horrendous death and for the future he will never have.

We need to hold those responsible to account because Thomas' life and death needs to matter. It has been truly heartbreaking to witness Thomas' hideous end, we can only imagine how dreadfully frightening it would have been for him and we will never recover from this; we can never forget and we feel almost as much victims of this as Thomas was. But to have some good come of it, some accountability, some change in policy, some shift in Police attitudes towards vulnerable people, would go some way towards our healing."