Inquest jury finds vulnerable man died as a result of "inadequate care" in police custody

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Following a four-week inquest, on 20 December 2013 a jury delivered their decision into the death in police custody of Robert Edwards. They concluded that the 55-year-old man had died as a result of inadequate care provided in Bury St Edmunds police station by officers of Suffolk Constabulary, and in a healthcare assessment provided by a G4S contractor.

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Robert Edwards was arrested following an alleged assault and was brought to Bury St Edmunds police station at about 21:50 on 20 May 2011. Rob was very intoxicated through alcohol at the time and had taken prescribed methadone earlier in the day. Rob was assessed by a healthcare professional provided by G4S, who determined he was "fit to detain" and provided instructions to police officers as to his care and the rousing regime of 30 minute rousing checks. Officers did not conduct rousing checks in accordance with Code C/Annex H of PACE. Rob's condition deteriorated rapidly: he aspirated some vomit and became critical at around 01:00 on 21 May 2011 when an ambulance was called, but he stopped breathing and later suffered a cardiac arrest. Paramedics and police officers started his heart and he was taken to hospital but died on the 25 May 2011 as a result of hypoxic brain injury.

In its decision the jury found that the medical assessment, the decision that Rob was fit to detain and the subsequent rousing checks had been inadequate and agreed with a doctor's view that as a general principle, Rob's prospects of survival would have been greater if he had been conveyed to hospital earlier.

In addition, as a result of issues which arose in the inquest, the coroner, Dr Peter Dean, is sending a report to national policing authorities raising concerns. In particular, this will focus on issues around clinical governance when police authorities contract out their healthcare services to private contractors.

Tim Baldwin represented the family of the late Robert Edwards at the inquest. He was instructed by Lochlinn Parker of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, with the support of INQUEST lawyers.

On the inquest decision Tim said:
"It was a privilege to represent Rob's family in this inquest. They demonstrated exceptional dignity, restraint and patience throughout this difficult and traumatic process. I hope that the issues which came to light during the inquest and on which Dr Dean is to write a report will mean that no other family is subject to the such a terrible loss of a vulnerable and much loved family member when detained in police custody."

Following the inquest the Independent Police Complaints Commission published their report on the case. INQUEST also published a press release about the inquest verdict.

The inquest and the decision have been reported in both the local and national media, including by the BBC, in the Ipswich Star, the East Anglian Times and the Bury St Edmunds Free Press.

Tim Baldwin is a member of the Inquest Team as well as a member of the Public Law, Mental Health, Prison Law, Community Care and Housing Teams at Garden Court Chambers.

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