Jury concludes neglect contributed to Duncan Tomlin's death following police restraint

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Ifeanyi Odogwu of Garden Court represented Duncan Tomlin's partner Ann-Marie Botting in the inquest. He was instructed by Anna Thwaites of Bindmans LLP.

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The jury on the Duncan Tomlin inquest recorded at West Sussex Coroner’s Court that he died due to ‘cardiorespiratory failure due to both restraint in a prone position and the effects of cocaine and mephedrone’ and his death was contributed to neglect.

Duncan Tomlin was 32 years, when he died on 29 July 2014 at Princess Royal Hospital.  This was after he suffered a cardiac arrest after being restrained by Sussex Police and placed in a police van on 26 July 2014 in Haywards Heath. His partner (Ann-Marie Botting) believed he was having an epileptic fit.

The jury returned the following narrative conclusion:

On the evening of 26 July 2014, following the use of a combination of drugs mixed with alcohol, Duncan’s behaviour became irrational and erratic although at that point he remained coherent. The loud and aggressive nature of the disturbance at Ryecroft, Haywards Heath, led to a call from a neighbour to the police believing there was a domestic assault in progress. 

Upon the arrival of the police, Duncan ran away and was pursued into Wood Ride, where he was detained in the prone position, and captor spray was used. He continued to resist and struggle, and so the restraint escalated to the use of handcuffs and leg restraints.  Additional officers arrived along with a police van. There was no clear continuity of the sharing of information relating to the risk assessment of Duncan’s care as different police officers exchanged positions within the restraint, and it was unclear who was in charge in this fast-moving situation. During this period of restraint, prior to and after the arrival of other officers Duncan was resisting and making loud, albeit incoherent noises and so the police drew the conclusion he could still breathe.

Duncan was removed to the van, still in the prone position, including folding his legs back to allow the doors of the van to close. 
There was an insufficient sense of urgency to move Duncan onto his side to address the risks of positional asphyxia from prone restraint coupled with the use of handcuffs, limb restraints, the effects of Captor spray and the suspicion that Duncan had taken stimulant drugs.  Duncan should have been moved onto his side earlier.

Following a kick, Duncan continued to be restrained in the prone position in the van.  A short period of time later, concerns were raised about Duncan’s condition. The handcuffs and leg restraints were not removed at this point.  He became unresponsive and a call was made for an ambulance, but due to a shortage of available SECAMB resources, the nearest available help was too far away so the decision was made to take him straight to the hospital. Duncan had a pulse but his breathing was laboured. 

At the point when the officers could no longer find a pulse the decision was made to take Duncan out of the van to commence CPR.  Officers were immediately dispatched to collect a defibrillator from the police station and to fetch a doctor from PRH.

A return of circulation was gained following approximately 30 mins of CPR, first by police officers until paramedics and a doctor arrived. Duncan was stabilised and was taken to hospital where he received intensive treatment but following multiple organ failure, he died at 03.59 on 29th July 2014.

Although the police receive training in Positional Asphyxia and the available policies extensively cover it, the efficacy of this training is inadequate.

The death was contributed to by neglect.

Ann-Marie Botting, the partner of Duncan Tomlin said:

"After 4.5 years it is bitter sweet that the jury found neglect in Duncan’s case.  It has been extremely difficult listening to what happened to Duncan on 26 July 2014 at the inquest, but I thank the jury for the conclusion that they returned.  

I believe that Duncan was having an epileptic fit, I told police and they completely ignored me. They proceeded to run after Duncan even though he had not done anything wrong. The police pinned him to the floor, used handcuffs and two sets of leg restraints on the ankles and knees and Captor sprayed him, which in my view was completely excessive. The police then failed to closely monitor him in the police van despite being trained on the risks of positional asphyxia. The police failed in their duty of care to look after Duncan. I miss him everyday."

She also wishes to thank the Coroner and her 'fantastic' legal team including Counsel Ifeanyi Odogwu and Solicitor Anna Thwaites amongst others.

Anna Thwaites, Solicitor at Bindmans LLP, who represented Ann-Marie Botting said:

"This was an extremely contentious inquest. Throughout the police officers failed to acknowledge any failures regarding how they restrained or monitored Duncan Tomlin whilst in their care. The jury’s finding of neglect was a damning indictment on the police officers’ actions and shows the importance of jury inquests in ensuring accountability and seeking truth."

The case has been reported by ITVGuardian and BBC.

Ifeanyi Odogwu is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests and Inquiries Team.

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