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Devon and Cornwall Police admits health and safety breaches

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Published by Sarah Yeoman at 4:02pm 19th October 2018. (Updated at 4:05pm 19th October 2018)

Devon and Cornwall Police has pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches - following the death of a man in custody.

Thomas Orchard died after being restrained and having an Emergency Response Belt placed across his face.

The 32-year-old who had paranoid schizophrenia apparently lay motionless in a locked cell for 12 minutes before receiving CPR.

It happened at Heavitree Road police station in Exeter back in October 2012.

In March 2017, a custody sergeant and two staff members from Devon and Cornwall Police were acquitted of Mr Orchard's manslaughter by gross negligence.

The following year, a prosecutors charged the office of the chief constable of the force under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police released a statement following the force's guilty plea at Bristol Crown Court on Friday. No individual person is being prosecuted.

Shaun Sawyer expressed his "deepest regret" to the victim's family.


"From 2002 until 2012 Devon and Cornwall Police researched, procured and trained members of the organisation in the use of an emergency restraint belt. That piece of equipment was used during the restraint of Mr Thomas Orchard on October 3, 2012. Following his restraint and detention, Thomas became unconscious and a week later died.

"In the intervening six years, my thoughts have always been with Thomas, his family and friends who have lost a loved one. It is only today that I have been able to personally offer my deepest regret to all those individuals.

"From the outset Devon and Cornwall Police has co-operated fully with the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service.

"Throughout the last six years I have had the opportunity to review the totality of this matter and latterly, the evidence provided to me by the Crown Prosecution Service in pursuit of a single offence charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

"In respect of the use of the emergency restraint belt, it is my belief that the standards expected by Devon and Cornwall Police were not met between 2002 and 2012 and did not meet the legal threshold of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

"In the spirt of candour and out of respect to the courts, the family of Thomas, the public and my workforce, I have decided, as the Corporate representative of the organisation, that it is only right to plead guilty on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police to this charge.

"However, legal matters remain outstanding in respect of whether this Health and Safety breach caused the death of Thomas.

"We must respect this court process as the Judge is still to make a determination on this issue, and it is not for Devon and Cornwall Police to make a decision on such a critical matter.

"This is an extremely complex matter and it remains to be determined by the court. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment further at this juncture."

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer

The hearing, expected to last for three days, will take place in April next year.

It will not look at whether or not restriction of breathing by the belt was a contributory factor of death.

It will include evidence of Mr Orchard's restraint, including CCTV footage and witnesses.

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