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Family ‘very disappointed’ after panel clears police of misconduct over death

Duncan Tomlin suffered from epilepsy (Family/PA) Photo: Press Association Images

The family of an epileptic man who died after being restrained face down in a police van have said they are “very disappointed” three officers have been cleared of gross misconduct.

Duncan Tomlin fell unconscious while being detained during a struggle in Haywards Heath in July 2014.

The 32-year-old, originally from Oxfordshire, died in hospital two days later.

He was wrestled to the ground, sprayed with an incapacitant and arrested after punching an officer in the face.

Inspector Matt Webb, chairman of the Sussex Police Federation, speaks to the media Credit: Yui Mok/PA

He was handcuffed, placed in leg and thigh restraints and held face down on the floor before being carried into a police van with his legs curled up behind him before he collapsed.

The CPS twice decided not to prosecute the officers.

A panel found all the allegations against Sussex Police sergeant Christopher Glasspool and police constables Jamie Jackson and Daniel Jewell were not proven on Friday after a week-long misconduct hearing in Lewes.

Relatives, including his father Paul, who attended the hearing said afterwards in a statement: “We have never sought revenge for the officers involved, we have just wanted an honest account of what happened to Duncan that night.”

Duncan Tomlin’s father, Paul Tomlin (left) attended the inquest Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest which has been supporting the family, said it was “hard to reconcile” the conclusion with the “harrowing evidence” presented at the hearing.

The family’s solicitor Helen Stone, of Hickman and Rose, said: “Sussex Police have made clear it is their view officers did not follow their training, policies and guidance in their actions towards Duncan.

“These are all matters which will need to be addressed in the inquest process.”

Inspector Matt Webb, chairman of the Sussex Police Federation, called for the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) to apologise to the officers, claiming the misconduct investigation was “disproportionate and at times incompetent”.

He said the proceedings had a “dramatic effect” on the officers “personally and professionally” and hit out at publicity of the hearing.

He added: “Time and again officers are taken to a hearing by the IOPC without basis or evidence and I call upon them to offer (the officers) an apology in relation to their treatment over the last four years.”

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Panel chairman John Bassett said: “The findings in no way mitigate the tragic circumstances of Mr Tomlin’s death.”

Mr Tomlin ran off when police first arrived at the late-night disturbance.

His partner told two other officers he had epilepsy and could be having a seizure, the panel heard.

They determined there was no evidence of a seizure taking place.

Mr Tomlin went from “screaming and shouting incoherently” when officers arrived to “groaning and shouting” while being restrained on the floor face down before being carried into the police van, the hearing was told.

Mr Bassett said the panel found officers had given “honest accounts” which were “credible and could be relied upon”.

The panel did accept pathologists’ findings that both drugs and positional asphyxia, where someone suffocates because of the position they are in,
played a part in his death.

CCTV footage played during the hearing of inside the van showed the officers initially kneeling on Mr Tomlin’s back and legs while he lay face down on the floor in handcuffs.

Requests for the footage to be made public were refused by the panel.

The panel found it would have been “unsafe” for the officers to move Mr Tomlin on his side before he was placed in the van.

Sgt Glasspool, speaking about the incident for the first time at the hearing, said he began to “panic” when Mr Tomlin “suddenly” stopped shouting when inside the van.

Steve Barry was on the panel Credit: Yui Mok/PA

The officer of 17 years told the hearing he “felt like a criminal” when he was questioned over the “horrendous” incident but had done “everything he could” to save Mr Tomlin’s life.

Mr Tomlin was in the van for a total of seven and a half minutes before Sgt Glasspool and another officer administered CPR.

An ambulance was called but stood down when it was decided it would be quicker to take him straight to hospital, before being called back again shortly afterwards and a doctor rushed to the scene.

The panel dismissed claims Sgt Glasspool ignored warnings of a seizure and did not uphold the accusations that all three were responsible for “inexplicable delays” in removing restraints after realising there was a medical emergency.

Two other police constables were investigated over the incident.

Russell Watson was cleared of all allegations at a private hearing on Friday and Alexander Bennett resigned on December 31 2017.

Sussex Police assistant chief constable Steve Barry, who sat on the panel, offered his sympathies to Mr Tomlin’s family, adding: “I do believe the panel has made the right decision.

“Ultimately what we have concluded is the officers’ actions were appropriate and they did meet standards of behaviour that we would expect and the public should expect from the police.”