'Staff failed' in Newport police cell death says IPCC

An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the death of a "vulnerable" man in a police cell has found "staff failed" to protect him.

Andrew David Sheppard, 22, was found dead at Newport Central police station on 30 September 2006.

An inquest into Mr Sheppard's death also revealed "gross failings" in the system.

Gwent Police has since implemented all eight recommendations made by the IPCC.

Mr Sheppard was detained by police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 after "behaving irrationally" on 30 September 2006.

His family had been in contact with police and health professionals on several occasions, that day, to seek advice.

Mr Sheppard, from Newport, was taken to Newport Central police station and detained overnight in a video cell for assessment.

At 10.45am on 1 October, officers went to Mr Sheppard's cell so that he could be medically assessed by a police surgeon within the custody unit.

The custody officer was concerned about Mr Sheppard's condition and called for assistance.

Mr Sheppard was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital and was subsequently pronounced dead.

'Troubled young man'

An inquest into Mr Sheppard's death, at Newport Coroner's Court, concluded on Wednesday that he had died from a drugs overdose.

But the jury added there had been "gross failings" in the system, with the "levels of care being contributing factors".

As the inquest verdict was announced, the Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded that "individual custody staff failed in the performance of their duties" and that Gwent Police custody practices needed revision.

Describing Mr Sheppard as "a very troubled young man", IPCC Commissioner for Wales Tom Davies extended his sympathies to the family "at what must be a difficult time for them".

He added that custody staff should have given Mr Sheppard "a place of safety" and that he was owed "a duty of care", in which staff failed.

"Those custody staff for a variety of reasons did not keep proper records, did not check on Mr Sheppard with the frequency that they should have done, and nor did they keep him under proper observation," he said.

"Force custody policy at the time was also deficient, as was the management of this particular custody unit."

He added that police custody is "the wrong place for somebody with mental health problems", but admitted it is sometimes the only option available.

"However, when a vulnerable person like Andrew Sheppard is taken into custody then we do expect that the measures outlined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Codes of Practise, for dealing with detainees, are applied by custody staff," he said.

"We sought expert forensic analysis which showed that in all probability Mr Sheppard had taken drugs during the time he was in custody, which shows how poor the observation of him had been that night."

Evidence from the IPCC investigation led to one custody sergeant being fined 13 days pay and three custody sergeants were reprimanded.

Four custody detention officers received management advice, along with one of the police constables who detained Mr Sheppard.

The IPCC made eight recommendations to Gwent Police about its custody policy, which have now been implemented.

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