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Caretaker’s death triggers probe

11 October 2013

AN INVESTIGATION into the death of Thomas Orchard (right), a 32-year-old church caretaker, has prompted the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to express concern about the use of an emergency restraint belt (ERB) as a "spit hood".

Mr Orchard, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence in Exeter in October last year. He was taken to a police station, became unresponsive while in a cell, and died later in hospital.

On Tuesday, the IPCC said that it had "identified a risk in the way that an emergency restraint belt (ERB) was used on Mr Orchard as a spit hood by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, and wrote to all chief constables in England and Wales on 1 November 2012. The letter expressed concern that use of an ERB in this way posed a risk to individuals. The IPCC highlighted the need for any other body using an ERB in such a way to carry out risk assessments."

It has submitted a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concerning Mr Orchard's time in custody and the actions of two custody detention staff, three police officers, one custody sergeant and a nurse. The CPS will determine whether criminal charges will be brought against any of the police staff involved. The IPCC has also submitted evidence to the Health and Safety Executive for it to consider corporate charges.

Guidance on the use of the ERB published by the force this year states that it can be used if a detainee is likely to escape or attempt to escape or to offer violence. It can also be used to prevent detainees from injuring themselves. The guidance states: "The ERB may be applied around the head in cases where the subject is, or is likely to, head butt, spit, or bite in order to protect the subject and to increase officer safety."

In 2011, the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody reported that, of the 6151 deaths that took place in state custody between 1999 and 2009, 22 "were as a direct result of restraint".

On Monday, Mr Orchard's sister, Jo, told Channel 4 News: "We don't know how, or why - fully - it [the emergency response belt] was applied. We have massive concerns about its use."

His father, Ken, told the programme: "We waited seven months before we could bury Thomas's body, and that gave us a small degree of closure. But still with this ongoing inquiry, which they're telling us now will last in total about five years before it closes. So five years before we can put this to rest. And it's agony for the family. It's absolutely agony. And the system doesn't help our grief."

Mr Orchard attended St Thomas's, Exeter, for several years. He had a job as a part-time caretaker in the church hall. The church was full at his memorial service in October last year, after which a statement was issued: "He was an important and valued member of our church family and we have lost a quiet and devout friend."

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