Family of Exeter man who died in police custody 11 years ago hope for answers at inquest

Thomas Orchard died in police custody in October 2012. Credit: Family handout

The family of a man who died after being restrained in police custody say they have endured "11 tortuous years", but hope his inquest will help to improve the treatment of people in mental health crisis.

Thomas Orchard, 32, who had a history of serious mental illness, died after being restrained in police custody in Exeter in October 2012.

He suffered a cardiac arrest after being held down, handcuffed, and placed in restraints, with a webbing belt wrapped around his face.

He died in hospital seven days after being arrested and taken to Devon and Cornwall Police’s Heavitree Road custody unit.

The force pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches following Mr Orchard's death.

His inquest, being held before a jury, is due to resume on Monday at Exeter and Greater Devon Coroner’s Court, at County Hall, Exeter, and to last until 15 December.

In a statement, Mr Orchard’s family said: “It has been over 11 tortuous years since Thomas’s tragic death and we welcome his inquest as our first opportunity to play a more active role in the proceedings and to finally get some answers.

“We hope that the inquest process will be robust, with all those involved being open and honest, so that, as a family, we can not only have our questions answered, but also ensure that Thomas’s death can play its part in improving the treatment of those in mental health crisis and in preventing further deaths in police custody.”

Campaign group Inquest said an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the predecessor to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), began after Mr Orchard’s death.

His inquest was suspended by Elizabeth Earland, then HM senior coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon, to allow for criminal proceedings related to his death.

The resumed inquest is being heard before Philip Spinney, senior coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon.

The chief constable for Devon and Cornwall, a police sergeant, four constables, two detention officers, a nurse, Serco custody services, the IOPC and Devon Partnership NHS Trust are among the interested parties to be represented at the inquest.

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