Peterborough: Cell Death "Accidental"

24 June 2012, 08:00 | Updated: 25 June 2012, 14:56

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has issued its findings from an investigation into the death of a man in custody in Peterborough.

The investigation relates to the death of Jonathan Pluck in 2009. 

The IPCC investigation concluded a year ago but release of findings has awaited the outcome of an inquest. 

At Peterborough Town Hall on Friday, an inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

As a result of the investigation three Cambridgeshire police officers had a case to answer for misconduct in relation to their treatment of Mr Pluck while in their custody in Peterborough. 

The investigation found that:

  • During a forceful restraint officers failed to recognise that Mr Pluck was at risk and in urgent need of medical attention;
  • No proper risk assessment was made when Mr Pluck was brought in to the police station; 
  • Two of the officers left Mr Pluck unsupervised for two short periods in a police van while he was still wearing  a ‘spit hood’, contrary to force policy;
  • A resuscitation mask was not used correctly by an officer who was unclear about how to use it;
  • While officers did not act in a deliberate way to cause harm to Mr Pluck, they failed to comply with their training and safety in detention procedures.

The IPCC submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service in mid-2010 which decided there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of criminal convictions. 

Two police constables have attended a force misconduct meeting and an inspector has received management action from a senior Cambridgeshire police officer. 

Mr Pluck, 36, died in police custody on 6 May 2009. 

He was treated at Peterborough District Hospital during the early hours of 6 May 2009, in relation to drug and alcohol withdrawal. 

Later the same day the hospital contacted Cambridgeshire Constabulary as he had self discharged.

At 3.50pm the same day Mr Pluck was taken into Bridge Street Police Station, Peterborough, in a distressed state by an acquaintance. 

He was bleeding from his arm where he had taken out a cannula and was taken back to Peterborough District Hospital by ambulance, accompanied by a police officer.

At the hospital Mr Pluck was told by nursing staff that they would not be able to treat him unless he calmed down. 

As he did not do so a police officer told him that he had to leave and walked out of the hospital with Mr Pluck.

Once outside the hospital it is alleged that Mr Pluck attempted to punch the officer, who then arrested him and restrained him on the ground until a police van arrived to transport him to police custody.

Mr Pluck was spitting so a ‘spit hood’ was placed over his head before he was transported to Thorpe Wood Police Station. 

At the police station he was restrained in a cell, strip searched and then left face down on a mattress which had been placed on the cell floor.

Within minutes Mr Pluck was observed from outside the cell and was clearly unwell. 

Officers entered the cell and attempts were made to resuscitate him. Paramedics were called and he was taken back to Peterborough District Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 6.38pm.

On 7 May 2009, a decision was made that the IPCC would conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances leading to Mr Pluck’s death.

The IPCC made a number of recommendations to Cambridgeshire Police as a result of learning from the investigation, including the need to ensure: 

  • Custody sergeants go immediately to a cell to risk assess a potentially violent detainee, if the arrested person has not been presented at the custody desk; 
  • Officers are adequately trained in the use of specialist equipment such as ‘spit hoods’; 
  • All emergency medical equipment is checked regularly so it is fit for purpose and relevant officers are trained in its correct use; 

The IPCC investigation examined police logs, relevant CCTV footage, witness accounts, force and national policies and procedures, and four police officers were interviewed under criminal caution.

It took evidence from medical experts and a specialist in police use of force.