'Police cell no place for people with mental health issues', warns charity

Thomas Orchard, who had a history of mental health problems, being restrained in a cell in Exeter. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

A mental health charity is calling for a rethink in the way police deal with vulnerable people in their custody.

On Tuesday, ajury acquitted three officers from Devon and Cornwall Police of the manslaughter of Thomas Orchard.

He suffered with paranoid schizophrenia and died in hospital a week after suffering a cardiac arrest in an Exeter police cell. A restraining belt had been placed across his face.

Thomas Orchard's family claim he should never have been in police custody. His sister Jo said, "He should never have been arrested. Without a doubt. He should have been sectioned. For me the last place that someone whose suffering from mental health problems should be is in a cell."

Devon and Cornwall Police have raised concerns about putting people with mental health problems in cells in the past. Mental health charity SANE agrees there is a problem:

Majorie Wallace, from Sane, said "a police cell is never the place for someone with mental illness. What should happen is that people like Thomas Orchard should be given a psychiatric assessment before any severe restraint. They should be taken to a hospital rather than a police cell."

Thomas Orchard surrounded by police officers in a cell. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

While he was in that cell Thomas Orchard stopped breathing and suffered a cardiac arrest. Attempts were made to resuscitate him, but he'd suffered irreparable brain damage and died a week later in hospital.

A restraint known as an emergency response belt was wrapped around his face, the defendants said this was to stop him biting.

On Monday, custody sergeant Jan Kingshott and civilian detention officers Simon Tansley and Michael Marsden were cleared of his manslaughter. However, Devon and Cornwall Police still faces another investigation under suspected offences of corporate manslaughter.

Meanwhile, Thomas Orchard's family have re-iterated their plea that their son's death should trigger a change in the way people with mental health problems are dealt with by police.