Thomas Orchard: Police force fined £234k for safety breach after inmate’s death | UK News

A police force has been fined £234,500 for health and safety breaches after a belt was used around the face of a man before he collapsed in custody.

Thomas Orchard died in hospital a week after he was arrested in Exeter in October 2012.

During his time in custody, Mr Orchard was restrained using an emergency response belt (ERB) over his face for five minutes and two seconds to prevent him biting or spitting.

The office of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police admitted breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2018 during a landmark conviction.

The charge said the police failed to ensure that “non-employees”, including Mr Orchard, were not exposed to any risks in connection to the belt.

The belt used to restrain Mr Orchard in his cell
The type of belt used to restrain Mr Orchard in his cell

Judge Julian Lambert handed the six-figure fine to the police force at a sentencing hearing in Bristol Crown Court, and said that the force’s approval of the belt for use on the face was a “fundamentally flawed process”.

The force has also been ordered to pay ordered to pay £20,515 in costs.

But in April, Judge Lambert ruled that he could not be sure that the belt, which was initially designed to restrain limbs, was a contributing factor in Mr Orchard’s death.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Lambert said that use of the ERB on the face had “crept in”, despite it only being approved for use as a limb restraint in 2002 and as a face restraint in 2003.

He said: “This occurred without any risk assessment or any research being carried out on the effects of use of the emergency response belt as a hood.

“The prosecution properly characterises this as a fundamentally flawed process. This was accompanied with a lack of uniformity in training.”

Mr Orchard was restrained by police in 2012
Mr Orchard was restrained by police in 2012

Judge Lambert noted that the belt had been used 500 times prior with no reports of injuries.

At the hearing in Bristol, Mark Heywood QC, prosecuting, read an extract from a personal statement by Mr Orchard’s mother, which said: “It has been painful to witness how an organisation which had a duty of care for Thomas was so casual, disorganised and sloppy in their approach to health and safety.

“Perhaps the hardest thing to hear was how Thomas’s detention could have and should have been managed.”

Jason Beer QC, representing the police force, said every £100,000 in fines would mean a reduction of three recruits for the force, adding: “The use of the device did not, on the evidence, cause actual harm to any person.”

Mr Orchard was restrained for more than five minutes using a belt over his mouth
Mr Orchard was restrained for more than five minutes using a belt over his mouth

Ken Orchard, the victim’s father, spoke outside court, saying the family had “no sense of real justice”.

He added: “Investigations over the past six-and-a-half years have highlighted some criminally appalling health and safety practices which desperately needed changing.

“We hope more than anything that the residents of Devon and Cornwall will be at least a little safer today as a result of Thomas’s death.”

Shaun Sawyer, the force’s chief constable, said outside court: “Today’s sentence is clear in its judgment that the actions of Devon and Cornwall Police did not lead to the death of Thomas Orchard.

“Devon and Cornwall Police is a very different organisation six-and-a-half years on from Thomas Orchard’s death in terms of the training delivered to staff, awareness of mental health crisis and our ability to identify and manage violent, vulnerable people coming into police contact.”

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