Investigation concluded into death of Simeon Francis in Torquay

Published: 12 Aug 2021

The Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) investigation into the death of 35-year-old Simeon Francis in Torquay custody suite has concluded and our investigation report has been provided to Mr Francis’ family and HM Coroner.

Mr Francis was found unresponsive in his cell on Wednesday 20 May 2020, and subsequently sadly pronounced dead at around 6pm that evening. Mr Francis had been arrested at 12.45am that day in Exeter. The force submitted a referral to the IOPC on 20 May 2020, and we started our independent investigation shortly afterwards.

We examined the circumstances surrounding Mr Francis’ death, including whether information and risks identified during previous police detentions were adequately shared with custody staff. We also examined Mr Francis’ arrest and transport to custody, the level of care provided to him in custody and the police response when he became unwell, including medical attention provided prior to the arrival of paramedics on 20 May.

A post mortem examination identified Mr Francis’ cause of death as sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

One officer was served with a misconduct notice for potentially failing to follow relevant police guidance regarding detainees who are believed to have swallowed drugs. This was in relation to comments Mr Francis made to officers at the scene of his arrest in Exeter. On further investigation, we found the officer had followed procedure and had no case to answer.

We also examined whether discrimination based on Mr Francis’ ethnicity was a factor in his treatment while in custody. It is apparent from the body-worn video evidence that the two White males who were arrested together with Mr Francis were taken to Exeter custody suite, whereas Mr Francis was taken to Torquay. The evidence indicated that the decision to take Mr Francis to Torquay was based on the assessment that he could not be safely accommodated at Exeter custody suite because of the number of detainees there who had high medical needs and Mr Francis had a known heart condition and presented other risks. In relation to Mr Francis’ detention in custody, the evidence as a whole indicates that his care in custody was in accordance with relevant policies and procedures and did not indicate he was discriminated against due to his ethnicity.

IOPC regional director, Catrin Evans said: “Our thoughts remain with Mr Francis’ family and friends at this time. We have provided them with our investigation report which we hope will provide them with answers to the questions they will have about why Mr Francis died while he was in police custody. In these circumstances, it is vital there is an independent investigation of police actions.

“While we did not find that any person serving with the police has a case to answer for breaching police professional standards, we did recommend that Devon and Cornwall Police urgently consider the training and awareness in place for custody staff on Police National Computer warning signals for health conditions and the system in place for checking that custody staff are using these markers.

“We have also provided HM Coroner with our report and the underlying evidence, which will help to inform the inquest proceedings which will ultimately determine how Mr Francis died.”

We will publish our full findings once inquest proceedings are complete.

  • Devon and Cornwall Police
  • Custody and detention
  • Death and serious injury