Custody sergeant and two police staff deny manslaughter of mentally ill Thomas Orchard, who died after arrest in Exeter
A church caretaker with mental health problems died at the hands of a police custody sergeant and two detention officers after a webbed belt was wrapped around his face as he was restrained in custody, a jury has heard.
Onlookers in the public gallery wept while they watched CCTV footage of Thomas Orchard apparently shouting out as the American-made restraint was used by members of Devon and Cornwall police.
Bristol crown court was told that the belt was not designed to restrain someone at the head, but the prosecution claimed that Orchard had been carried face down into a cell with the device covering his nose and mouth. He was then held face down on a mattress in the cell, the belt still over his face.
Orchard, 32, who had been arrested on suspicion of a public order offence in Exeter city centre, suffered a cardiac arrest and brain damage caused by oxygen starvation and died in hospital a week later. Sgt Jan Kingshott, 44, and civilian detention officers Simon Tansley, 38, and Michael Marsden, 55, deny manslaughter.
The court was told that Orchard, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested on the morning of 3 October 2012 after being involved in a disturbance. Police were alerted and five officers and two community support officers were sent. Witnesses said Orchard was attempting to bite the officers and he was forced to the ground, put in restraints and carried to a van.
At Heavitree police station Orchard kicked out at an officer and also appeared to attempt to bite another, the court heard. Tansley asked for an ERB – emergency response belt – to be brought in.
Mark Heywood QC, prosecuting, said the ERB was primarily used by police to wrap around a suspect’s body at the chest, midriff or thighs. He said the belt could also be used as a “shroud” but should not be used as a “mechanism of securing or control” in the head area.
But the prosecution claimed the belt was wrapped around Orchard’s face and on the count of three he was lifted up to waist height in a face-down position. The jury were shown CCTV footage of officers carrying Orchard into the cell and placing him on a mattress, where he was held for nearly five minutes with the ERB still over his face.
Heywood said: “The belt was applied to the face in the order of five minutes. That has two effects. The first is that it is likely to affect his breathing and, second, it removes the capacity to monitor the situation.”
The officers then carried out a careful search of Orchard, removing personal items and placing them in a bag held by Kingshott. The ERB was removed from Orchard and the men left the cell, Orchard lying face down on the mattress.
When officers and a custody nurse entered Orchard’s cell later he was not breathing and was in cardiac arrest.
The jury heard that Orchard was generally seen as “quiet and placid”. He was admitted for mental health care in hospital five times between 2004 and 2009 but at the time of his death was living in supported housing in Exeter. On the day of his arrest, his health had deteriorated, and after going to church for communion he caused the disturbance that led to his arrest.
Heywood said: “He died because force was used to restrain him, mostly in a prone – face-down – position and in addition a large webbing belt was put across his face. Together these things interfered with his ability to breathe. No one of those directly responsible took sufficient care to see that he was breathing properly.”
He added: “The three defendants are those directly responsible for his detention at the police custody unit, for implementing and directing the use of force at the police station and for the application of the webbing belt about his head.”
The three defendants face two joint charges of manslaughter, which they deny. The first charge alleges that they carried out an act or series of acts that unlawfully killed Orchard, while the second alleges they unlawfully killed Orchard by gross negligence.
The trial continues.