IOPC investigation finds police use of force was reasonable prior to death of Derbyshire detainee
An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found Derbyshire Constabulary officers used reasonable force to restrain a man before he was found unresponsive in his cell and later died in hospital.
Our investigation did, however, identify potential failings in the way custody officers managed the welfare of Shaun Aherne after was detained and taken to Chesterfield custody facility on 7 January 2018. He was found unconscious and not breathing a short time later and taken to hospital where, sadly, he passed away on 10 January.
After a week-long inquest which ended at Chesterfield on Monday 6 February the jury’s narrative conclusion found that Mr Aherne, aged 42, died due to the physical and psychological stress of being restrained in police custody because he had significant ischemic heart disease, which was not known at the time. He was also under the influence of cannabis and likely poor mental health which added to his level of physical and psychological stress. He went into cardiac arrest which interrupted the supply of oxygen and blood to his brain which caused unsurvivable brain damage.
The jury also concluded that it was apparent police custody staff did not purposefully assess Mr Aherne's level of consciousness and vital signs before leaving him in the cell, adding: “It is believed that had they done so it is possible that his deteriorating condition would have been recognised, and it is possible that interventions could have been provided to avoid his death.”
Mr Aherne was arrested at Pleasley after officers responded to a reported domestic incident. There were concerns that his behaviour was linked to drug use.
CCTV and body worn footage showed that Mr Aherne, who was handcuffed, was aggressive on arrival at the custody suite. He was restrained by officers after kicking one of them and force was used to apply a spit guard and leg restraints before he was carried to a cell. Further force, including hand strikes, were used while his clothes were being removed to prevent self-harm. He was left prone on a mattress on the cell floor between 2.08pm and 2.17pm when a custody officer found him unresponsive and an ambulance was called.
The IOPC’s investigation began following a mandatory referral from Derbyshire Constabulary and was completed in December 2018.
IOPC Regional Director for the Midlands, Derrick Campbell, said: “Our thoughts remain with Mr Aherne’s family and all of those affected following his tragic death.
“Officers have a duty of care towards those placed in their custody and when someone dies either during or following detention it is important that the circumstances are thoroughly and independently investigated.
“From the evidence we gathered we were satisfied that the force used by officers, was necessary, reasonable and proportionate but concluded there were potential failings in the way Mr Aherne was managed after he was placed in a cell.”
We found a case to answer for misconduct for three custody sergeants for their apparent failure to set an appropriate care plan, specifically task officers to carry out CCTV monitoring of Mr Aherne in his cell, debrief the arresting officers, carry out intelligence checks and consider the risks associated with Mr Aherne’s detention.
At a misconduct meeting organised by Derbyshire Constabulary in April 2019, allegations that the officers had breached police standards of professional behaviour for duties and responsibilities were not proven.
We also found a case to answer for misconduct for two custody detention officers over allegations that they had failed to properly establish their roles in respect of Mr Aherne’s care. They were dealt with by way of management action rather than attending misconduct meetings.
During our investigation we reviewed body worn video footage from the officers present and CCTV footage from the custody suite. We obtained statements from the officers and also considered the pathologist’s report and analysis from a use of force expert.
Following the conclusion of our investigation our report and findings were shared with Mr Aherne’s family, Derbyshire Constabulary, and HM Coroner to assist with the inquest.