IPCC concludes errors were made in S Yorkshire custody matter
Oct 7, 2010
An Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation has concluded errors were made by South Yorkshire Police officers when dealing with a man who had sustained a serious head injury.
Dean Hutton, 22, sustained a serious head injury when he was attacked with a scaffolding pole in an incident in on Mount Pleasant Road in Rotherham on 8 August 2009. Two brothers, Brett and James Garbutt, were subsequently convicted on grievous bodily harm charges and imprisoned.
Following the incident Mr Hutton, who refused to attend hospital, was arrested in relation to a failure to attend court and taken into custody at Main Street Police Station in Rotherham. Approximately 11 hours later he was taken from custody to hospital after his health deteriorated.
Following a referral by South Yorkshire Police, the IPCC independently investigated Mr Hutton’s time in custody to determine whether he received the appropriate welfare.
The investigation determined between 9:38pm and 10:26pm on 8 August South Yorkshire Police received several telephone calls about an ongoing incident. The calls also referred to a man being assaulted.
When officers arrived on the scene they identified Mr Hutton as the victim of the assault and he was examined by paramedics. Although on initial examination Mr Hutton appeared well, the paramedics recommended he be taken to hospital as he had received a blow to the head. Mr Hutton declined this advice.
However officers had identified that Mr Hutton was wanted in relation to a failure to appear at court and he was arrested and taken into custody.
The investigation determined that when Mr Hutton arrived at Main Street Police Station the custody sergeant was made aware that Mr Hutton had received a head injury. However no record was made of this information.
Instead Mr Hutton was classified as drunk and placed on half hourly checks.
These checks were carried out as required. But at 12:30am on 9 August it was noted Mr Hutton had vomited, and at 4:19am he was found to be difficult to rouse. Throughout this period Mr Hutton’s actions were regarded as a result of him being drunk.
At 10:30am he was found to be unresponsive, breathing shallowly and bleeding from his nose. He was seen almost immediately by a Force Medical Examiner (FME) who happened to be in the custody suite, before he was taken to Rotherham District General Hospital. He was found to have a serious head injury and significant brain damage. He will require long term care.
The IPCC investigation concluded that the failure to record the details of the head injury when Mr Hutton entered custody meant opportunities were missed to recognise the seriousness of his injuries earlier.
If the information had been recorded, then the fact Mr Hutton vomited at 12:30am and was difficult to rouse later may have been seen as indicators of serious illness rather than drunkenness.
It is notable that when Mr Hutton became seriously unwell officers could be seen on CCTV checking the custody records to try to find a reason for his ill health. However as nothing had been recorded about the head injury there was nothing to inform them, the FME or the attending paramedics.
As a result of the findings the following misconduct considerations were substantiated:
•One custody sergeant was found to have failed to adequately carry out a risk assessment when Mr Hutton was brought into custody because he did not note the details of the head injury; failed to give Mr Hutton his rights; and failed to carry out further dynamic risk assessments given Mr Hutton’s condition.
•Three other custody sergeants failed to give Mr Hutton his rights and also failed to carry out dynamic risk assessments given Mr Hutton’s condition.
The IPCC made five recommendations in relation to their findings, three at a local level and two nationally. The three local recommendations, set out below, have all been implemented by South Yorkshire Police.
1.South Yorkshire Police custody staff should receive refresher training in relation to risk assessments. Custody staff should be reminded that the use of detention officers does not negate from their responsibilities;
2.On commencing his/her duty, the Custody Sergeant should personally visit each prisoner to check on their welfare and physical condition (ss stated in the Safer Detention and Handling of Persons in Police Custody Guidance).
3.It is recommended that detainees detained under a warrant are subject to a review, which would prompt a formal risk assessment.
The two national recommendations are being taken forward by the Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO) Pre Trial and Custody Portfolio Lead, for inclusion in the Safer Detention and Handling of Persons in Police Custody Guidance.
4.The handover between custody staff should be formal, structured and documented. The handovers should include specific reference to each detainee. In addition, where CCTV exists within the custody area, the handover should be undertaken within sight and sound of an appropriate camera/microphone;
5. Where more than one custody sergeant is on duty there is a documented agreement about their respective roles and responsibilities.
IPCC Commissioner Nicholas Long said: It is clear from our investigation that a serious mistake was made which impacted on the welfare of Mr Hutton while in police custody. The failure to take proper heed of the information that Mr Hutton was believed to have sustained a head injury meant information was not available to others which may have changed the way in which they responded when he vomited and was difficult to rouse.
Opportunities were missed that may have resulted in Mr Hutton receiving earlier medical intervention. It is obviously beyond the IPCC’s remit to say whether such earlier intervention may have changed Mr Hutton’s prognosis.
The injuries he sustained as a result of the attack have left him in very poor health and he will need constant care. My thoughts are with him and his family in what must be a very difficult time. Our investigation will ensure that lessons are learned from this incident.”
Ian Christon, IPCC Regional Communications Officer (North region) Tel 0161 246 8582
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