20th November 2013

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced that it will be conducting a criminal investigation into the death of Terry Smith. Terry Smith died last week after being restrained and detained by police under the Mental Health Act.  His death came just a week after the death in police custody of Leon Briggs, also following restraint and detention under section 136.  

Also today, Thomas Orchard’s family have been informed by the Crown Prosecution Services that they are considering the following offences as they examine the evidence gathered by the IPCC investigation into his death:

  • Manslaughter by an unlawful act
  • Manslaughter by gross negligence
  • Misconduct in a public office
  • Corporate manslaughter
  • Perverting the course of justice
  • Health and Safety offence(s)

On behalf of Thomas Orchard’s family, Ken Orchard, Thomas' father said:

“Despite the alarming number of similar deaths that occur in police custody every year, the Crown Prosecution Service has never achieved a successful prosecution for manslaughter against a police officer. The public is rapidly losing confidence in the British Police.

“The seriousness of the charges being considered in Thomas case is self evident.  If there have been offences committed, we hope they will be addressed fairly and transparently and that if any officers failed in their care of Thomas they will be held to account.

“The frequency of cases like Thomas' suggests that there is an abusive and inhumane element within the police force and our fear is - if officers continue to escape prosecution for serious offences - that this element will become systemic throughout the force.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“The robust investigation and scrutiny of deaths in and following police contact is critical in establishing whether there has been any criminal wrongdoing or misconduct at an individual or corporate level.

“However, the two recent deaths within eight days of vulnerable men restrained and then detained by police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act shows that lessons from previous deaths have not been acted upon. There have been a plethora of recommendations arising from inquests, inspectorate reports and reviews that have disappeared into the ether.

“Urgent action on a national strategy is needed to ensure changes to organisational culture and practice by the police and mental health services in responding to people undergoing a mental health crisis.  How many more deaths will it take to see the coordinated approach and change needed to bring about safer practices?”

A full statement from Thomas Orchard’s family follows:

We are pleased that the IPCC and CPS are taking Thomas’ death seriously and can only hope that - what seems to us like - a protracted process is indicative of thoroughness and rigour.

The seriousness of these charges is self evident and we are distressed that neither has the ERB used on Thomas been more widely withdrawn nor have the 7 individuals concerned been suspended, as the IPCC recommended many months ago. If there have been offences committed, we hope they will be addressed fairly and transparently so that justice is done; if public confidence is ever to be restored in the Police Force, no police officer – or other individual who works for the police - should be above the law, however difficult their job.

But we are mindful that there has never been a successful prosecution for manslaughter against a police officer despite the alarming number of deaths that occur in police custody every year and expect a long fight ahead of us. Do follow our fight in memory of a much loved son and brother by finding our blog, ‘Justice for Thomas Orchard’.

We know that the families of other young men – like Sean Rigg, Seni Lewis and James Herbert – who died in police custody before Thomas, feel that justice has not been done and despair that lessons have not been learnt from their experiences. We hope that lessons can be learnt now and, more than anything, we want to see these deaths end. Thomas’ death raises issues surrounding the care of the mentally ill in our society in austere times and the restraint of disturbed people in police custody; there needs to be a thorough public debate.

As a family we were desperately sad to read of the deaths of both Leon Briggs and Terry Smith in police custody in the last two weeks; our hearts go out to their families.