As specialists in preventing and managing challenging behaviour, and pioneers in the development of safe physical intervention training programmes the latest reported restraint death highlights the real world dangers of physical restraint. In this instance a custody sergeant and two detention officers are facing accusations of gross negligence manslaughter. They all deny the charges.

Many of the facts of this case are there for all to see. A harrowing video was shown to the jury. It captured the moment Schizophrenic Thomas Orchard died as he was restrained by Police and civilian detention officers at Heavitree Road Police Station in Exeter, Devon.

The jury saw videos that showed the arrest of Mr Orchard in Exeter city centre following a public order incident. Another clip shows him being marched from the van into the station in restraints, and physically being carried around the station. Yet another piece of footage shows him being carried face-down in the 'emergency response belt', before being deposited motionless on a thin mattress on the floor of his police cell. The final video shows him as he is surrounded by officers and police staff who are holding him face down on the floor, before they finally remove the 'emergency response belt' and leave the custody cell.

Opening the prosecution Mark Heywood QC said: “The damage that caused his death had occurred following his arrest by police on suspicion of a public order offence in central Exeter. At the roadside he was dealt with by a total of seven police and support officers. He was taken from there on that day, in physical restraints, to the local custody unit. There he was dealt with by a total of six trained police officers and detention unit staff, again while in physical restraints throughout..”

Mr Heywood continued as he elaborated on how the tragedy then played out, “In fact, Mr Orchard was ill and suffering from a relapse of his mental illness, of long-standing paranoid schizophrenia..” He went on to say that the prosecution contended that the combination of force and physical restraints that were used on the church caretaker, coupled with a complete failure to enquire and so to realise his true condition and also to observe him closely and directly, led together to the 32 year old being starved of oxygen to the point of cardio-respiratory arrest.

“He died because force was used to restrain him, mostly in a prone, face down, position, and in addition a large webbing belt was put across his face in the course of those events. Together - you may think obviously - these things interfered with his ability to breathe. The situation continued for over five minutes deep within a police station, while he was bound…”

“At the same time, no one of those directly responsible took sufficient care to see that he was breathing properly - or even perhaps at all towards the end of those events. Instead, he was left in a locked cell, under more remote observation for a further twelve minutes until his true condition was discovered… By then, it was too late...'

Lee Hollins, a physiotherapist by training, who leads SecuriCares work on managing restraint risks says “This case highlights the many dilemmas and risks involved in committing to physical restraint. At the forefront of anyone’s minds as they approach an incident, where some form of physically challenging behaviour is in evidence, should be an awareness of what the application of force is likely to do… the good and the bad..”

“Physical restraint may well bring a dangerous piece behaviour under ‘control’, but it will also dramatically alter the force recipients internal physiological environment. The cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems will invariably be placed under sudden and immense stress. This has consequences. The individual’s ability to tolerate and cope with this extraordinary demand will be determined in large part by their mental and physical health. Research shows that many vulnerable adults aren’t equipped for such an ordeal. Sadly it leads to injury, and as in this case death. In this situation we look to have had six or seven people involved in the restraint of one person.  It was always going to be a course of action fraught with danger. My general message to staff involved in such restraints is to know the risks beforehand, and keep them in mind as you take each and every decision as you go along. For each and every action there is a consequence. Organisations sanctioning physical restraint or physical intervention must be prepared for such eventualities..”

The case continues.

SecuriCare offer a range of courses designed to enable support workers, carers and foster families to best respond to any ‘Challenging Behaviour’ that may occur. All programmes are finalised after full training needs analysis and delivered by experienced frontline practitioners. Click to see our ‘Preventing & Managing Challenging Behaviour’ Course which includes ‘Positive Behaviour Management’ techniques designed to minimise the need for any kind of restrictive intervention. You can also take a look at our person centred Behaviour Planning Service.

Securicare also offer a ‘Restraint Reduction’ support service and training in support of improving safety. Check out our ‘Physical Intervention’ courses and our online ‘Restraint Risks’ course, or ask for details about our newest course 'Physical Interventions: Removing Risk & Reducing Use' a course that provides practical guidance on how to manage risks within the context of an incident as well as prevent future restraint use. 

Contact us for more information and to discuss your needs: E: or T: 01904 492442

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