Northern Ireland

PSNI warned over restraints after man 'passed out'

Police ombudsman

Police officers have been urged to look for signs people they are restraining are having breathing difficulties, following an incident last September.

A Police Ombudsman investigation found that a man appeared to pass out while being taken to police custody.

The man had struggled and been aggressive after being arrested in Londonderry.

His hands had been cuffed behind his back and leg restraints fitted before he was driven to a cell in Coleraine.

The PSNI said it would reflect on the findings.

A Police Ombudsman investigator said: "The man continued to struggle but quickly became less active and could be heard telling police that he couldn't breathe.

"He then began to make gurgling noises, and police body worn video footage shows him becoming quiet and motionless. Thankfully police stopped the car and checked on his condition."

When the man came round he became aggressive again and was restrained.

For the rest of the journey, he was sat upright between two officers.

He was examined by a police doctor when they arrived at the custody suite.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The man's hands had been cuffed behind his back and leg restraints fitted

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said the incident showed the potentially fatal risks associated with "positional asphyxia".

This causes people to have difficulty breathing due to the positioning of their body. A face down position is recognised as a risk factor, as are alcohol or drugs.

"I know that police have provided training on this issue, and guidance for officers is available on the PSNI website," Mrs Anderson said.

"I would urge police officers to refresh their knowledge of the guidance so that they remain mindful of the risks of certain restraint techniques and alert to the danger signs of positional asphyxia."

The police officer who had been in the back of the car said he could not recall the man lying face down for a long period of time.

He had received training and was aware of police guidance on positional asphyxia, and said he had tried to ensure the man had enough air and room to breathe.

However, the Ombudsman said the officer should have been more alert to the risks of a person being restrained while face down, and to danger signs such as gurgling noises.

She recommended he be disciplined.

Supt Jon Burrows said: "PSNI acknowledge the findings of the Police Ombudsman, and the officer in question has been given advice and feedback by his line management.

"PSNI will further reflect upon the findings of the Ombudsman's investigation to identify if there are any other learning opportunities."