Bury St Edmunds: Suffolk Constabulary “failed” to care for vulnerable man who later died


- Credit: Archant

An inquest has found that Suffolk Constabulary “failed” to take sufficient care of a vulnerable man in their custody who later died in hospital, an inquest and independent police probe have both ruled.

Robert Edwards, 55, of Horringer Road, Bury St Edmunds, was arrested by police at around 9.20pm after he had allegedly assaulted his estranged wife on May 20, 2011.

A nurse examined Mr Edwards who suffered drug and alcohol problems and decided he was fit to remain in the police cell.

But just before 2am he was taken to hospital by paramedics after becoming unconscious. Five days later he died in West Suffolk Hospital because of an aspiration to the lung, a lack of oxygen to the brain and the combination of alcohol and methadone.

The 10-strong jury found at yesterday’s inquest, held at Bury St Edmunds Farmers Club, that Mr Edwards should not have been “deemed fit” for police custody.

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When the jury was asked by Greater Suffolk coroner Peter Dean whether the check carried out by the nurse on Mr Edwards was adequate, they answered “no”.

A follow-up question, asking whether the nurse’s check may have led in some way to his death, the jury answered “yes”.

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Further questions came on the regular 30minutes checks carried out by police officers on Mr Edwards. The jury said that failures in the checks between 11pm to 00.30am, were also a factor in his death.

Dr Dean asked whether the jury agreed with a doctor’s view that had Mr Edwards been taken to hospital sooner he would have had an increased chance of survival. The jury answered “yes”.

On May 21, 2011, Suffolk police referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) which then investigated.

A spokesman for the IPCC said that had detention officer, Barry Brackenborough, not resigned from Suffolk Constabulary then he would have been dismissed at a later gross misconduct panel because of failing to rouse Mr Edwards on more than one occasion.

Police constable Alison Huntley was found to have a case to answer for misconduct for failing to rouse Mr Edwards adequately on one occasion. She accepted a written warning following a misconduct meeting.

A case to answer against sergeant Jason Francis was found not proven at a gross misconduct hearing and no action resulted.

IPCC commissioner Sarah Green said: “Our investigation found that Suffolk Constabulary failed to take appropriate care of Mr Edwards, who was in a vulnerable state due to his intoxication, and did not properly carry out rousing checks on him as needed. When Mr Edwards’ condition deteriorated this was not identified and responded to sufficiently promptly.”

Suffolk police said it was “determined” to learn lessons from the case. Superintendent Kim Warner said: “Officers and staff who work in our custody suites are given extensive training in rousing procedures, in line with national guidelines. This was no different at the time of Mr Edwards’ death, however in this particular case the training was not put into practise and procedures not followed correctly.”

Since 2011 the force said there have been “significant” developments to improve custody facilities across Suffolk.

Michelle Coleman, 46, paid tribute to her partner Mr Edwards. She said: “Rob was a loving, intelligent, kind and considerate man who I love and will always have precious memories of. He suffered from an illness that meant his actions could sometimes not reflect his true character.

“Rob’s tragic and untimely death deprived him of his wish to address this illness and has also left a vast void in my life. I believe the results of the inquest in conjunction with the jury’s verdict have given the truth of the circumstances in respect of Rob’s death. I feel that the correct conclusion has been made by the jury that Rob should have been taken to hospital where he would have received appropriate care. Furthermore, that the care he received in custody fell below the required standards.”

Mr Edwards’ wife, Susan, his daughters Jaime, Lauren and Sara, and his sister Belinda have released this statement: “Rob is missed and loved by all of us. He had a number of challenges in life but our love for him is unchanged.

“His death has been a tragedy and it is a source of immense sadness that Rob’s life could have been saved at a number of points throughout the night of May 20 had he received prompt medical care.

“When Rob went into custody at Bury St Edmunds police station he was a vulnerable man who needed to be cared for. The police and medical professionals have a particular duty to the wellbeing of vulnerable people in their care. The jury have found that on a number of different occasions police officers or medical professionals failed in that duty and did not provide prompt or adequate care.

We can only hope that the lessons of this tragedy will be understood and that future deaths will be prevented as a result.”

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