12 April 2019

Before His Honour Judge Lambert
Bristol Crown Court, 9 Small Street, Bristol, BS1 1DB
10am, Monday 15 April - expected to last up to four days

The next hearing for the prosecution of the Office of the Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police will take place from Monday 15 April at Bristol Crown Court. In October 2018, the Office of the Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police pleaded guilty to charges under section 3 and Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, in relation to the police force’s use of an Emergency Response Belt to restrain Thomas.

This was the first ever guilty plea on Health and Safety charges from a police force in relation to a death in custody. This Newton hearing is for the court to determine whether the breaches caused Thomas Orchard’s death in 2012. There will be a separate sentencing hearing in May.

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 illness 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 Emergency Response Belt (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 a cell 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.



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

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.

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.

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.

In December 2018, the Home Office published the first national statistics on police use of force (April 2017-March 2018). The statistics highlighted that one of the most common reasons reported by police for using force (after drugs and size/gender/build) was mental health, reported 68,990 times in the period, far more than prior knowledge (59,177) or possession of a weapon (40,214). See INQUEST media release for more information.