19 October 2018

Before His Honour Judge Lambert
Bristol Crown Court

The Office of the Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police today pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety Act, in relation to the police force’s use of an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) to restrain Thomas Orchard. Thomas, a 32 year old church caretaker, was detained by police on 3 October and died on 10 October 2012. This is the first ever guilty plea on Health and Safety charges from a police force in relation to a death in custody.

Chief constable Shaun Sawyer, as a representative of his office, sat in Bristol Crown Court to face the charges which relate to a breach under Section 3 and Section 33 of the Health and Safety Act 1974, and were brought by the Crown Prosecution Service. However, the court has not yet determined whether the use of the ERB caused Thomas’ death. As such there will be a further hearing, known as a Newton Hearing, to examine causation and to consider the sufficiency of officer training concerning the use of the ERB. The hearing is listed for the 15 April 2019 for three to four days, and there will be a separate sentencing hearing in May.

This is only the second Health and Safety prosecution of a police force in relation to a death following contact with police. It will also be the first ever successful prosecution relating to a death in police custody (with the previous charge relating to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes). Since 1990, there has never been a successful murder, manslaughter or corporate manslaughter prosecution against a police officer or force following a death in custody or contact with police. This is despite numerous unlawful killing and highly critical conclusions at inquests.

Thomas was a fit and physically healthy 32 year old church caretaker, living independently in supported accommodation at the time of his death. He had a history of mental ill health and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. On 3 October 2012 he was arrested and detained by Devon and Cornwall officers in Exeter City Centre following reports of his bizarre and disorientated behaviour.

He was transported by police van to Heavitree Road Police Station. Upon arrival, in addition to the triple limb restraints applied, an ERB made from a tough impermeable webbing fabric, was put around his face. The ERB remained held around his face as he was carried face down to a cell, where he was left lying unresponsive on the floor. By the time officers re-entered his cell, Thomas was in cardiac arrest. He was transferred to hospital and pronounced dead on 10 October 2012.

Alison Orchard, mother of Thomas said: “For over six years Devon and Cornwall Police have consistently refused to accept any responsibility for Thomas’ needless and avoidable death. We welcome today’s guilty plea and the fact that they are finally admitting to some failings.

However, having watched and listened to much evidence over the years, we are shocked and horrified that they still deny that those failings in any way contributed to Thomas’ death.

Despite the claims of the Chief Constable, we see little actual evidence of remorse.

Therefore, whilst our family does not relish the prospect of yet another hearing, we are pleased that the defendant’s denial that its criminal conduct caused Thomas’ death will now be tested in open court. 

We will continue to fight for justice for Thomas and are committed to doing all we can to reduce the shameful frequency with which people with mental health difficulties die in police custody. Sadly, we have come to the conclusion that change will only come about when Police authorities are forced to take responsibility and that is our hope as we go forward with Thomas’ case.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “This historic guilty plea is long awaited acknowledgement by Devon and Cornwall police of the criminally unsafe restraint belt used in Thomas’ brutal restraint. It should not have taken his needless death to expose the dangerous and unregulated use of this restraint equipment.

This plea comes against a backdrop of escalating use of force by police, a rise in restraint related deaths and deaths of those in mental health crisis. Corporate responsibility for dangerous culture and practice within policing is rarely the focus of scrutiny and accountability. This has got to change.

It is unacceptable that six years after Thomas’s death, his family are still having to wait for accountability and answers.”

Helen Stone, solicitor at Hickman and Rose said: “Chief Constable Sawyer’s guilty plea on behalf his office is welcome news.

As far as we are aware, this is the first time a police force has admitted to a health and safety breach in connection with a death in police custody. It therefore opens up a new front in society’s fight against state wrongdoing.

All police forces should now review how equipment is approved, reviewed, and trained for use to ensure not only that they comply with the law, but that no other members of the public are put at risk as Thomas was.”



For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact Lucy McKay and Sarah Uncles on 020 7263 1111 or here

INQUEST has been working with the family of Thomas Orchard since his death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group member Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose solicitors.

The first hearing at Bristol Crown Court took place on 1 August 2018.

Custody Sergeant Jan Kingshott and Detention Officers Simon Tansley and Michael Marsden were charged with gross negligence manslaughter after Thomas died of asphyxia following a period of prolonged restraint in their custody. In March 2017 the jury at Bristol Crown Court found them not guilty.

In his evidence to the Court, Home Office pathologist, Dr Delaney, identified that Thomas’ death resulted from a struggle and period of physical restraint including a prolonged period in the prone position and the application of an Emergency Response Belt across the face resulting in asphyxia.

In February 2018, following Devon and Cornwall’s persistent refusal to take action, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) directed the force to bring gross misconduct charges against four police officers and two detention officers involved in Thomas’ detention and restraint.  These proceedings are still awaited.

Previous prosecutions under the Health and Safety Act following deaths in contact with police:

  • Jean Charles de Menezes was shot by Metropolitan police in Stockwell station and died on 22 July 2005. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner was prosecuted under HSE for 'failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare of Jean Charles de Menezes’. The Metropolitan Police Service, on behalf of the office of the Commissioner, pleaded not guilty to the charges. On 1 November 2007, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in his official capacity was found guilty and was fined £175,000, together with £385,000 of legal costs.

  • Anthony Grainger was shot by Greater Manchester Police and died on 3 March 2012. It was alleged that Greater Manchester Police failed to prepare properly for the operation, which left people at risk. As such, the Chief Constable Peter Fahy was charged under Health and Safety at Work Act, as the corporation sole for Greater Manchester Police.

    However, in January 2015 an ‘abuse of process’ argument from the police was accepted, with the police arguing that the evidence which needed to be disclosed in open court in order for the defendant to have a fair trial would not be in the public interest and it would prejudice future Greater Manchester Police operations. The Crown Prosecution service dropped the charges. The conclusion of a public inquiry into Anthony Grainger’s death which followed is awaited.


The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) most recent annual statistics on deaths during or following police contact in England and Wales, published on 25 July 2018 showed:

  • There were 23 deaths in or following police custody, the highest figure recorded in the past 14 years, and an increase of nine since last year.
  • Four people who died in or following police custody were detained under the Mental Health Act.
  • Seventeen of the people who died in or following police custody or other contact were restrained or had force used against them by the police or others before their deaths.
  • 12 of the 23 people who died in or following police custody had mental health concerns

See the INQUEST media release for more information.