Worthing Custody Staff Criticised

The Independent Police Complaints Commission independent investigation into the death of Sharon McLaughlin while in custody at Worthing Custody Centre on 16 May 2010 has concluded that some custody staff failed to adhere to custody guidelines.

An Inquest held at West Sussex Coroner's Court today returned a verdict of death by natural causes.

The IPCC investigation made a number of recommendations about the training of custody staff and a police sergeant was given a written warning following a misconduct hearing.

IPCC Commissioner for South East England Mike Franklin said: "My sympathies go to Ms McLaughlin's family and friends, who must have found this whole process very distressing.

"Ms McLaughlin had already alerted the custody staff that she was a heroin addict. However, for her to be sick while she was in custody and for staff not to take any action is extremely worrying.

"This case follows the IPCC investigation into the poor treatment of Garry Reynolds while he was in custody in March 2008 where Sussex Police and Reliance custody staff had similar failings. I now expect Sussex Police to review its training and ensure that it is fit for purpose and complies with Home Office guidance.

"I will ensure that the force and the Police Authority provide regular updates in their progress to improve their custody training.”

Sharon McLaughlin was arrested by police on 15 May on suspicion of shoplifting and taken into custody at Worthing Custody Centre, where she told the custody sergeant that she was a heroin addict, suffered from depression and had previously self-harmed.

Ms McLaughlin was taken to a cell and placed on 30-minute non-rouse checks. At about 11.15am on Sunday Ms McLaughlin was interviewed in the presence of a solicitor and did not appear unwell. This was confirmed when the CCTV tape was checked by the IPCC investigation.

At lunchtime on 16 May, Ms McLaughlin was found unconscious in her cell and an ambulance was called. First aid was performed by the custody staff and then by ambulance staff, but at 2pm Ms McLaughlin was pronounced dead.

Although no link was established between Ms McLaughlin's death and the time she spent in custody, it is clear from the evidence that she vomited in her cell during the early hours of 16 May. The custody CCTV records custody staff discussing this, but not taking action to clean her cell or have Ms McLaughlin medically checked.

The IPCC found that she was not treated with the consideration, professionalism and dignity that the public would expect. It was for this failing that the police sergeant was given a written warning.