Devon and Cornwall Police fined over health and safety offences

Published: 03 May 2019

The Office of the Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police has been fined £234,500 after admitting health and safety breaches in a landmark conviction, following an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into the death of Thomas Orchard.

Devon and Cornwall Police failed to ensure Mr Orchard was not exposed to risks to his health and safety over their use of an Emergency Response Belt (ERB).

A search of police records as part of our first investigation revealed 55 instances where an ERB had been used about the head of detainees in Devon and Cornwall custody in the 12 months prior to Mr Orchard’s death. On at least six of those occasions the detained person was handcuffed to the rear and was being carried.

IOPC Regional Director Sarah Green said: “We immediately identified a risk in the way that the ERB was used on Mr Orchard by Devon and Cornwall Police and we wrote to all Chief Constables and other custody providers in November 2012, just a month after Mr Orchard’s death, to share this learning and express our serious concerns. There was evidence the belt had been used in this way for a decade in Devon and Cornwall and that there was insufficient monitoring of its use.

“Our letter set out the need for policing bodies to carry out risk assessments using the ERB as a spit hood, something Devon and Cornwall Police had failed to do. Their lack of risk assessment was accompanied by inconsistency in their training on how officers should use the device.

“Chief constables and policing bodies are legally responsible for the health and safety of their officers and staff as well as any non-employees, including detainees, affected by their work. Devon and Cornwall Police’s guilty plea last year on health and safety charges represented a landmark conviction, as the first ever from a police force in relation to a death in custody.

“While there was a failure with the force’s corporate decision making, we maintain that there is also a need for the actions of some individual officers involved in the detention and restraint of Mr Orchard prior to his death to be considered by a misconduct hearing panel.”

Judge Lambert said at a court hearing last month that he could not be sure the use of the ERB caused or contributed to Mr Orchard’s death.

A decision was made in 2015 to split our investigation into the death of Thomas Orchard into two. The health and safety offence conviction follows our second investigation, which focussed on potential corporate failings, carried out with assistance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The charge was authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service in April 2018.

Max Walker, HSE’s Head of Operations in the South West said: “Our thoughts are with Thomas Orchard’s family.

“The requirements in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to manage risk arising from work activities is HSE’s core expertise. Therefore, we have supported the IOPC investigation throughout and worked with the CPS to bring about this prosecution. HSE continues to work with police forces across the UK on their management of risks in what can often be complex and sensitive situations.”

Arrangements are being made for misconduct hearings to be held by Devon and Cornwall Police.

  • Devon and Cornwall Police
  • Death and serious injury
  • Welfare and vulnerable people