Daughter of man who died in police custody 'disgusted' at his treatment

By Kris Jepson

Exclusive: The daughter of a man who died, after he had been held for 27 hours in custody, has told ITV News Tyne Tees she is "disgusted" at his treatment by officers of Northumbria Police.

A jury at an inquest into the death of Stephen Berry concluded on Wednesday that his "death was due to the effects of alcohol withdrawal in circumstances where there were avoidable delays to emergency medical interventions".

Northumbria Police told ITV News "procedures have been reviewed and many changes have been made" since Mr Berry's death in 2013.

Watch @krisjepson's Exclusive report here:

Long Wait for 'Justice'

Stephen Berry was 43 when he was arrested and taken to Washington Police Station on Thursday 28 March 2013.

Officers were unable to take him to court until Saturday 30 March due to Easter, but his condition deteriorated on the Friday night and he was pronounced dead at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead in the early hours of the Saturday.

His daughter, Gemma Berry, has been waiting for nearly seven years for the inquest to take place into the circumstances surrounding his death.

It's had a huge impact on mine and my family’s life. My Nanna was dealing with it all previously, but she passed away in December three year ago and I promised her that I would keep fighting for justice for my dad, so now I can finally start grieving for my Nanna and my dad, now the inquest is finally over.

Gemma Berry
Gemma Berry Credit: ITV News

CCTV at Inquest

CCTV from Stephen Berry's cell and the police custody suite was played out to the inquest jury on Tuesday.

It showed Mr Berry being checked into custody on the Thursday night and then his medical condition slowly deteriorating over two nights.

The jury were told how Mr Berry was hallucinating, twitching, gesticulating and "sweating profusely". On one occasion an officer is quoted as saying Mr Berry "states he can hear voices in his head and can see figures in his cell holding machine guns”.

Stephen Berry Credit: Family Photo

In a timeline of "agreed facts" read out to the jury, there were a number of entries revealing some of the officers used inappropriate language when discussing Mr Berry, including calling him "******* crackers" and dismissing his behaviour, brought on by his deteriorating condition, as "taking the ****".

Three hours after first being called, the force doctor finally arrived at 11.28pm on the Friday night. Mr Berry could be seen on the CCTV slumped on his face, rocking back and forth on the cell floor. Some 10 minutes later Stephen Berry’s limbs were seen twitching. This was his last known movement.

Gemma Berry said watching the CCTV of her father seen dying in his cell was disturbing.

Absolutely disgusting. No-one should have been treat like he was in there. All the comments that were made towards my dad, totally disrespectful and unbelievable. No-one should ever, ever have to watch what I had to watch that day he died. It was heartbreaking. He should have been given the chance to get taken to hospital when he asked to, instead of them dismissing him and he probably would have been still alive today.

Gemma Berry
Report findings Credit: ITV News

Police Watchdog Report

ITV News has seen a report written in December 2013 by the former police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The report could not be published until legal proceedings, like the inquest, were complete.

The report concluded there were “serious failings” in the detention of Stephen Berry, including:

  • Inaccurate and misleading entries on Mr Berry's custody record

  • Poor recording of medication dispensed

  • Failure to take action to ensure Mr Berry received prompt medical care

  • Criticism of one sergeant who “actively delayed” the attendance of the force doctor - who turned up 3 hours after initially being called.

  • Inappropriate and unprofessional language used about Mr Berry

The actions of the two sergeants in charge of the custody suite that weekend were considered by the report as amounting to "gross misconduct", which could result in "dismissal". Both of the officers have since retired.

Tragically, evidence in the report from the testimony of a consultant cardiologist concluded there was a three hour "window of opportunity" for the custody officers to save Mr Berry's life.

Dr Raphael Perry is quoted in the report saying "if he had been transferred to hospital within this timeframe he is highly likely to have survived this episode of alcohol withdrawal."

It makes us feel totally let down by the whole system, because if they get him there [hospital] in the three hour window, he still could be here now for these kids, his grandkids... I would ask them [Northumbria Police] why I still haven’t had, and my family hasn’t had, an apology from them in nearly seven year, for this happening to my dad. I'm just totally disgusted. >

Gemma Berry
Washington Police Station Credit: ITV News

Northumbria Police Response

Responding to the conclusion of the inquest, Northumbria Police released a statement:

Our thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of Stephen Berry following his tragic death in 2013. As a Force, we take the welfare of people in our custody extremely seriously with officers and staff thoroughly trained in caring for detainees. The importance of risk assessments, observations and treatment of people who are alcohol dependent or suffering alcohol withdrawal are important factors of this training. I take note of the findings made at the inquest into Mr Berry’s death which concluded today (Wednesday). In the years since 2013, procedures have been reviewed and many changes have been made, which was accepted at the inquest. This is very much an ongoing process to ensure we continue to meet the needs of those who come into custody. As with any death in police custody, an immediate referral was made to the Independent Office for Police Conduct who carried out an investigation.

Assistant Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Rachel Bacon