Inquest Into Death Of A Man In Staffordshire Police Custody

Expert Lawyers Instructed To Investigate Potential Failures By On Duty Staff

09.04.2015

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The family of a man who died in police custody have sought answers at his inquest in Stoke on Trent.

Nicholas Rowley, from Stoke on Trent, was arrested in a car park after failing to comply with an outstanding warrant to appear at Stoke Magistrates court for an offence of theft. But the 34 year-old died the next evening after being taken into custody at the Northern Area Custody Facility in Staffordshire on 2 October 2011.

Nick was a recovering alcoholic and drug user but was seeking specialist help with these issues. He was taking prescribed methadone when he was taken into police custody. Whilst in custody, he began to struggle with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Instead of being immediately assessed by a doctor, staff gave him a can of lager and failed to correctly observe him in line with national guidelines.

Specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have been instructed by Nick’s family to investigate the care he received whilst at the Northern Area Custody Facility which is jointly run by Staffordshire Police and G4S.

Nick was also in a camera cell at the facility which should have had constant CCTV recording – but confusion between custody staff and the doctor over the correct observation levels meant that the CCTV was turned off a couple of hours before his death and there is no recording of Nick’s last few hours alive.

An inquest into his death was held at Hanley Town Hall between 25 March and 9 April 2015. The jury returned a narrative conclusion and the Coroner says he will make recommendations for improvements to the Police.

The inquest heard evidence of:

  • A general lack of awareness about the requirements of observation levels and evidence of poor quality handovers between staff

  • Nick being given alcohol by detention staff who were concerned at the time taken by the on call doctor to arrive

  • Communication between doctors and custody staff about observation was poor, with inconsistency as to what was required between doctors and custody staff.

Fiona McGhie, a specialist public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office representing the family, said:

Expert Opinion
“There were delays in doctors attending the police station, which at one point led to officers giving Nick a can of lager to deal with his withdrawal symptoms, the custody sergeants did not take steps to find out from the doctors the results of their medical assessments and recommendations on observation levels and there was confusion over what differing observation levels required.

“The last doctor to see Nick alive provided no verbal handover to the police after seeing Nick, but she did clearly record in Nick’s custody record that he needed to be kept under constant observation due to his risks of fitting. Custody staff and police did not read this entry and contrary to medical advice dropped his level of observation down from constant monitoring by CCTV to a visit every 30 minutes.

“The expert medical witnesses’ opinion was that Nick died of a cardiac arrest as a result of methadone intoxication and alcohol withdrawal.”
Fiona McGhie, Associate

Nick’s mum, Karen Barber, said: “I am very concerned and upset to hear of the numerous failings in the way that Nick was cared for while in police custody. While the medical evidence heard at the inquest suggested that these did not directly lead to Nick’s death I will never know for sure whether this was the case.

“I firmly believe he should have been sent to hospital when he showed signs of serious alcohol withdrawal and asked to see a doctor. Lessons need to be learned to prevent future deaths in custody and I hope the report the coroner is to write will be properly considered and changes made.

“I hope that any lessons that can be learnt from this are shared across the country as these may prevent the loss of a loved one’s life in the future.”

Anyone who believes they have suffered unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution or injuries caused by police, should contact Irwin Mitchell on 0370 1500 100 or visit our Claims Against the Police page for more information.