A Death In Custody : Police Negligence ?

There has been a considerable furore in the news media this morning regarding our new Prime Minister’s somewhat rambling speech about Brexit, delivered during his visit to a police training centre in Wakefield. Mr Johnson, who appears to think he has “The Churchill Factor” (as per the title of his biography of Britain’s most famous PM) certainly didn’t display it yesterday, in my opinion; whereas Winston said that he would ‘fight them on the beaches’, Boris, it seems, would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’…


Seeing Mr Johnson delivering that odd remark, whilst standing in front of massed ranks of Police officers, put me in mind of the distressing fate which did indeed befall Mr Patrick Maughan, whose family I acted for in a recent inquest.


Mr Maughan, who had a pre-existing history of epilepsy, alcoholism and early onset dementia and cognitive impairment from a brain injury sustained in 2008, was arrested by Officers of Norfolk Constabulary on 22 July 2018, on suspicion of a low-level offence of drunk & disorderly behaviour. He was taken to the Kings Lynn Police Investigation Centre (PIC) and detained there overnight. On being ‘booked in’ Mr Maughan informed the Police that he suffered from fits on alcohol withdrawal.


On 23 July, Mr Maughan was released from custody and never heard from again; on 24 July his body was discovered in a steep, water-filled ditch close to the PIC. An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) established that shortly following his release from custody on the morning of 23 July at 11.22 am, Mr Maughan became unwell and disorientated and that at 12.03 pm he fell from the grassy bank next to the bus stop adjacent to the PIC, into the ditch below, and tragically drowned shortly afterwards.


The Officer with responsibility for Mr Maughan’s welfare at the time of his release was the Custody Sergeant. The IOPC report raises concerns about the Sergeant’s decision to release Mr Maughan to make his way home alone and unaided, in an isolated and unfamiliar environment, despite the fact that the Sergeant was aware, or should have been aware, that Mr Maughan experienced fits following alcohol withdrawal, was an epileptic, and had not had access to his epilepsy medication. Furthermore, the Sergeant appears to have overlooked, or ignored, a clear entry in the Police National Computer (PNC) records for Mr Maughan stating that he suffered from ‘blackouts’. Mr Maughan himself, prior to his release from custody, had expressed anxiety that he had not had his usual epilepsy medication.


Nevertheless, the IOPC concluded, the Custody Sergeant did not ask Mr Maughan pertinent questions regarding any of these issues prior to his release, nor did the Sergeant consult with a Health Care Professional. During his subsequent Misconduct interview in November 2018, the Sergeant made the following comments regarding Mr Maughan which I consider to demonstrate a quite callous lack of concern towards him –


“If he’s able to go and get drunk and disorderly then, and he’s able to walk to the bus stop, then clearly what’s stopping him walking into town?”


It appears that at the time of his pre-release assessment, Mr Maughan was slurring his speech, but the Sergeant interpreted this as being part of Patrick’s “Irish brogue”.


The immediate surrounds of the Kings Lynn PIC are an isolated environment in which there are numerous water filled ditches  and deep ponds which present risk to life and limb for vulnerable individuals. Mr Maughan’s only practical way of returning home that day was to use a bus, but at the time he was released, the next bus was not due for almost an hour. His last moments were caught on the CCTV camera of a nearby Agricultural warehouse (one of the few buildings in the vicinity). Patrick can be seen standing on the grassy bank next to the bus stop before wobbling forwards and backwards and falling over into the ditch. When his body was found the next day at the bottom of the ditch, his head and the upper half of his body were submerged in water.


The subsequent post- mortem report prepared for the coroner, remarked that the cause of Mr Maughan’s collapse was uncertain but highlighted the following issues –


  • Abnormalities in Mr Maughan’s heart could have caused a blackout
  • Mr Maughan was prescribed Epilim for his epilepsy. He was not given any of this medication whilst he was in Police custody.


Following on from the IOPC report, the matters highlighted above lead to a Misconduct Meeting in April 2019, at which the Custody Sergeant was found guilty of misconduct, and sanctioned with management action i.e re-training.


This is obviously a very sad case, in which it seems to me that numerous opportunities were missed to save Patrick’s life; in my opinion, given the medical issues which the Custody Sergeant was aware of, he should have known that it was unsafe to allow Mr Maughan to make his way home unaccompanied and/or arranged for Mr Maughan to see a doctor prior to his release from custody (who could have given him epilepsy medication). The Sergeant could also have consulted with Mr Maughan’s Social Worker. In fact, Patrick’s Social Worker was contacted by a Liaison and Diversity officer based in the PIC, who had also reviewed him prior to release. The Social Worker highlighted grave concerns about Mr Maughan’s ability to make his way home independently and the Liaison officer passed this information on to the Custody Sergeant with a request that the Officer go after Patrick, and bring him back to the safety of the PIC. Unfortunately, the Sergeant did not go out looking for Patrick until after he had collapsed into the ditch, and the officer returned to the PIC assuming that his former detainee had caught the bus.


In light of the above, I am now advising Mr Maughan’s sister in relation to her right to bring a claim for negligence and/or unlawful death contrary to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, against Norfolk Constabulary.


Our Prime Minister is a wealthy and privileged individual who, despite his histrionic language, is highly unlikely to meet his end in a dirty, water-filled ditch; sadly, many other members of our society are much more vulnerable, and it precisely those individuals, beset by chronic health issues and cognitive and social problems, who deserve the highest standards of care from our  Police Force. I do not believe that is what Mr Maughan received.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.

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