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Family of Thomas Orchard meets with the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss delays

14 July 2014

The family of Thomas Orchard, who died in police custody in October 2012, met with the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders on Thursday 10 July along with their lawyer, Beth Handley of Hickman and Rose solicitors, and Deborah Coles, INQUEST’s co-director.

Thomas Orchard suffered from schizophrenia and was living in supported mental health accommodation.  Disruptions to his medication led to a serious deterioration in his mental health and on the morning of 3 October 2012 police were called by concerned members of the public. He was detained, restrained and taken to Exeter police station. An ‘Emergency Response Belt’ was applied across his face as a spit/bite hood. He was subsequently found unconscious in his cell and taken to hospital where he died several days later.

In early July 2013, the IPCC passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of serious criminal charges against four officers and three civilian staff.  It has now been over a year and a charging decision has still not been made.

The robust meeting yesterday enabled the family to express how the ongoing delay, lack of communication and information and the constantly shifting goalposts has exacerbated their pain and distress.  Alison Saunders appeared to take this on board and acknowledged that CPS delays had contributed to the overall delay in the investigation into Thomas’ death.

The CPS has committed to a much higher and more regular level of communication with the Orchard family and a clear timetable towards a decision on criminal charges, which still appears to be some way off.

INQUEST expressed frustration that these were not new issues and that previous meetings on other cases had identified similar concerns, indicating systemic problems within the CPS that need urgent consideration and action. There was an acknowledgement on the part of the CPS that the systems in place for decision-making in death in custody cases more generally need review.  INQUEST intends to follow this issue up in the Autumn.

Following the meeting the with the CPS, the family met with the IPCC on Friday.  Speaking after the meeting, Thomas’s family said:

“On Friday we saw for the first time the CCTV footage of Thomas’s death. It was harrowing and highly disturbing to see but also necessary for our grieving process.  One of the hardest things we are having to deal with at the moment is the lack of detail we as a family have about the circumstances of Thomas’s death and the knowledge that we are likely to be waiting a considerable further length of time for the truth to come to light and for Thomas to get the justice he deserves.  We have received no adequate justification for the delay.”

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