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  1. ITV Report

Police charged over custody death of paranoid schizophrenic Thomas Orchard

Thomas Orchard died in police custody Photo: Press Association Images

Devon and Cornwall Police has been charged under the Health and Safety Act in relation to the death of Thomas Orchard in 2012.

Mr Orchard, a church caretaker, died in hospital seven days after being arrested and brought to Heavitree Road police station in Exeter, Devon, in October 2012.

During his detention Mr Orchard, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was held down, handcuffed and a large webbing belt called an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) was placed across his face.

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He was then left in a locked cell, where he lay apparently motionless for 12 minutes before custody staff re-entered and commenced CPR.

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 Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) announced in February this year that gross misconduct hearings would take place against a sergeant, two detention officers and three police constables.

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On Tuesday, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that it had charged the office of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police following a referral by the IOPC.

“The force has been charged with one count of exposing non-employees, namely police custody detainee Thomas Orchard, to a risk to his health or safety contrary to section 3 and 33 of the 1974 Act,” a CPS spokesman said.

“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and it is extremely important there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

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The IOPC said it had sent a file of evidence to the CPS in respect of Devon and Cornwall Police’s “corporate decision making surrounding the use of the Emergency Restraint Belt (ERB)”.

Mr Orchard was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was arrested in Exeter city centre at about 11am on October 3 2012.

He was dealt with by seven police officers, handcuffed and restrained around his legs before being driven to the Heavitree Road custody unit.

After appearing to attempt to bite an officer, Mr Orchard was held down and an ERB was placed across his face.

Mr Orchard was carried to a cell and searched before the ERB and restraints were removed. He was then left in the cell, where he was found unresponsive 12 minutes later.

A pathologist later found Mr Orchard had died from severe hypoxic-ischemic brain damage, caused by a prolonged cardio-respiratory arrest following a violent struggle and period of physical restraint.

In a statement issued through the charity Inquest, Mr Orchard’s family described him as a “much loved son and brother”.

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Mr Orchard would have turned 38 this week.

“Thomas died when he was 32 years old,” his family said.

“We could not then have ever imagined how long we would have had to sustain our fight for justice.”

The family added: “More than anything else we want to see a change in police attitudes and behaviour, particularly towards those with mental health vulnerabilities.”

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, described the prosecution as “historic” and “important”.

Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose, representing Mr Orchard’s family, added: “The family are pleased that the CPS has decided to prosecute Devon and Cornwall Police.

“This appears to be just the third time a chief constable has been prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in connection with a civilian’s death.

“The public will expect the CPS to fearlessly prosecute this case, without delay.”

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, of Devon and Cornwall Police, described the prosecution as of “grave concern” and said he took it “very seriously”.

“We will now take time to consider that decision in detail,” he said.

“We continue to support our staff following this decision, but the effect this has had on the Orchard family and our staff since October 2012 cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

“We are unable to comment any further at this time in respect of the health and safety charge due to the forthcoming criminal proceedings.”

The force will appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on May 24.