Police custody standards 'unacceptable'

CUSTODY standards within Suffolk Constabulary at the time of a man's death in a police cell were “unacceptable”, an inquest has heard.

Anthony Bond

CUSTODY standards within Suffolk Constabulary at the time of a man's death in a police cell were “unacceptable”, an inquest has heard.

Speaking at an inquest into the death of Ian Snelling, 51, from Felixstowe, the head of custody services within the force, Carl Puiy, said the force had “fallen short of the standards required”.

The court also heard from Sergeant Mark Woodmansee, who was the custody sergeant at Felixstowe police station on the morning of Mr Snelling's death on September 1, 2006.

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He admitted he had not taken sufficient care of Mr Snelling and said he was not aware of safety procedures demanded of him.

But he said the steps he took were in line with the training guidelines he had been given at the time, and that his action was standard practice.

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He apologised to the victim's family and said: “This whole tragic incident has been a very steep learning curve for me. If I had known then what I know now, I would have acted in a different way.

“If I was aware of the specific instructions for rousing people in custody in those circumstances I would have acted differently.”

Mr Snelling, of Manwick Road, died in custody after taking an overdose of up to 100 paracetamol tablets along with other drugs shortly before being arrested.

Officers who arrested him incorrectly assumed he was drunk, and put him behind bars at around 11.30am without having asked him key questions about his condition.

Greater Suffolk coroner Dr Peter Dean said if Mr Snelling had been asked these questions then his answers may have provided vital information, while if he had been unable to respond, that in itself would have set off alarm bells.

Dr Dean told how he had written to Suffolk Constabulary following a similar inquest in 2002 and warned that if a person in custody was unresponsive, whether through alcohol or not, medical assistance should be sought at all times.

And Mr Puiy- who took up the role of head of custody services in October this year - admitted that not enough was done following that warning.

“I think that much more could have been done and should have been done,” he said.

Mr Puiy said he had carried out a “root and branch” review of the force's custody services last year and found them to be “unacceptable”. He said he was now confident that standards were much improved.

He said the training course for custody staff was now four weeks longer then at the time of Mr Snelling's death. He said custody staff receive first aid training on a yearly basis and all custody suites within the county have defibrillators.

The inquest continues todaywhen the jury is expected to retire and consider a verdict.

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