Thomas Orchard custody death: Three police staff cleared of manslaughter

3 policemen have been cleared over the death of Thomas Orchard in Exeter in 2012Orchard family handout

Three Devon and Cornwall police staff have been cleared of manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of a man who had been forcibly restrained while in custody.

Thomas Orchard, 32, a paranoid schizophrenic, was subdued by up to seven officers and taken to Heavitree Road police station after being arrested for a public order offence in 2012.

Orchard had not been taking medication for up to a week before his arrest and told a mental health specialist he believed he was a vampire.

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When arrested on 3 October, he had restraints attached to his hands and feet and a webbing-based emergency response belt (ERB) over his face to prevent biting and spitting.

Church caretaker Orchard was placed face down on a mattress in a cell and searched before being left alone. 12 minutes later police returned to the cell to find him unresponsive.

Having sustained brain damage and cardiac arrest, he died in hospital a week later. A pathologist gave the cause of death as severe brain damage caused by a prolonged cardio-respiratory arrest "following a violent struggle and period of physical restraint", the Daily Mail reports.

Three police staff - detention officers Michael Marsden, 56, Simon Tansley, 39, and Sergeant Jan Kingshott, 45, were acquitted after the six-week trial at Bristol Crown Court. None had previously been subject to disciplinary proceedings.

Devon and Cornwall Police are also under investigation for suspected corporate manslaughter and health and safety-related charges. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) sats those involved may still face disciplinary proceedings.

Speaking outside court following the verdict Thomas's parents, Ken and Alison, said: "The change we want most is in the attitude of the police, particularly towards those with mental health vulnerabilities. The pain for the past four-and-a-half years has diminished us and today is a setback, but, on behalf of those vulnerable people and in memory of our Tom, our fight for truth and transparency continues."

Devon and Cornwall Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said: "I fully recognise the impact of these long-running and difficult proceedings upon the family of Mr Thomas Orchard, his loved ones and friends, with whom my thoughts and condolences remain."

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