Officers face misconduct hearing over death of caretaker

 Thomas Orchard had a cardiac arrest while he was held down and had a webbing belt placed across his face for longer than five minutes

Six police officers are facing misconduct proceedings after a vulnerable prisoner died after being held down, handcuffed and placed in restraints while a webbing belt was held around his face.

The sergeant, three constables and two civilian detention staff will face disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct in their restraint of Thomas Orchard, 32, in Exeter’s Heavitree police station in 2012.

Mr Orchard, who worked as a church caketaker, had a cardiac arrest while he was held down and had a webbing belt placed across his face for longer than five minutes. 

Custody sergeant Jan Kingshott, 46, and civilian detention officers Simon Tansley, 40, and Michael Marsden, 57, were cleared of gross negligence manslaughter by a jury at Bristol Crown Court in March last year.

But yesterday the IOPC police watchdog said they believe the six men have a case to answer for gross misconduct.

The IOPC said Devon and Cornwall Police disagreed with their judgement but IOPC Regional Director Sarah Green had directed the force to carry out hearings on the six members of staff for their ‘use of force’.

Both the IOPC and Devon and Cornwall Police agreed the seventh member involved in the arrest should face no charges and should be ‘dealt with through management action’.

The IOPC confirmed the three officers who faced trial last year at Bristol Crown Court were part of their recommended investigation, although the names of the other three would will face investigation will remain private until it is clear whether the hearings will take place publicly or privately.

Mr Orchard, a paranoid schizophrenic, was arrested in Exeter city centre in October 2012 following a disturbance. He was brought back to the police station and was held down by officers.

Officers can be seen carrying Mr Orchard in a prone position through Exeter's Heavitree police station in 2012

Officers can be seen carrying Mr Orchard in a prone position through Exeter’s Heavitree police station in 2012

Video footage of his arrest and detention in the cell were shown to jurors during a trial last year.

The jury heard that the belt was used on Mr Orchard, from Crediton, Devon, to stop him spitting or biting officers.

Mr Orchard was filmed being carried in a prone position and then placed face down in the cell, which restricted his ability to breathe.

Following the trial, Mr Orchard’s family said he had joined ‘a growing group of people who had lost loved ones in police custody and have found no sense of justice.’ 

The IOPC’s regional director Sarah Green said: ‘The decision to direct the hearings has not been taken lightly. It is important that the hearings will scrutinise the evidence in this case, and be presented on the basis of that evidence, as opposed to any opinions expressed by us or the force.

‘It will be for the future panel to determine whether or not professional standards were breached.’ 

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said: ‘The IOPC’s decision to direct misconduct action over the shocking facts of Thomas’ death is welcome. But the fact that Devon & Cornwall police required direction and were not willing to take this step themselves is reprehensible. 

‘Their resistance to taking action and the extra delay this has generated is yet another reason why Thomas’ family are losing faith in the justice process. It undermines any confidence that there is a desire to learn and be accountable after needless and preventable deaths like those of Thomas. With still no end in sight, repeated calls for expedited processes seem to go unheard.’