Coventry & Warwickshire

Care assessed after custody death in Warwickshire

Care for a man who collapsed in police custody and died was below the standard expected, an investigation has found.

It said Sean Walsh, 42, was taken in 2008 to the Warwickshire Justice Centre in Nuneaton and assessed as being unfit for questioning as he was intoxicated.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission added officers did not seek medical advice at appropriate times.

Warwickshire Police said it had reacted quickly to recommendations identified through the IPCC investigation process.

'Sincere condolences'

It added that one officer had had a written warning and another had received formal words of advice, but no actions taken by the force could have prevented the death.

An inquest, which ended in July this year, found Mr Walsh died from cardiac arrest resulting from conditions associated with chronic alcoholism, the police complaints body said.

It said Mr Walsh was arrested at about 1730 BST on 1 May 2008 on suspicion of theft of a bottle of alcohol and taken to custody at the Warwickshire Justice Centre.

He was detained in custody overnight, collapsed at just after 0800 BST the following morning and was pronounced dead at hospital, it added.

The IPCC said custody records were not kept adequately updated with all the necessary information, including Mr Walsh suffering from panic attacks, alcohol withdrawal and depression.

It added that "thorough and appropriate risk assessments were not carried out" throughout his time in custody.

The police complaints body said officers failed to seek medical advice at appropriate times including when officers found Mr Walsh did not have his anti-depressant medication and when officers discovered him in his cell bleeding from his mouth and appearing dazed.

IPCC Commissioner Len Jackson said the care afforded to Mr Walsh "did not meet the usual standards set by the police".

But he added: "I am pleased that Warwickshire Police acted quickly following this incident and put in place a number of actions to ensure they have learnt from this sad incident."

The IPCC said the force had implemented changes to custody procedures including amending the custody risk assessment to identify any issues regarding alcohol dependence or alcohol-related illness.

It added if a person was identified as dependent on alcohol, advice would be sought from a doctor on how to manage the withdrawal prior to the symptoms developing.

The IPCC said some of the changes had been adopted by other UK police forces as areas of best practice.

In a statement, Warwickshire Police said it extended its "sincere condolences to the family" and fully accepted the coroner's decision.

The force added it fully supported the IPCC investigation and there have been "six procedural changes to support custody officers to further identify and deal with individuals affected by alcohol-related health issues" while in its custody.

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