Police advised after death in custody

SUFFOLK Police have been advised not to assume people are just drunk, after a man died after being locked in a cell when he was dying from chronic liver failure.

By Tracey Sparling

SUFFOLK Police have been advised not to assume people are just drunk, after a man died after being locked in a cell when he was dying from chronic liver failure.

A circular has been sent out to all police, reminding them that what looks like drunkeness, could in fact hide a range of serious illnesses. It tells them not to automatically arrest somebody but call for an ambulance instead.

David Button had been arrested for being drunk and incapable in Abbeygate Street, Bury, July last year, and after custody documents were completed at Stowmarket Police Station he locked in a police cell.


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Sergeantt Neil Isgrove decided to call an ambulance after Mr Button complained he was having trouble breathing, and his skin paled and turned grey. But was conveyed to West Suffolk Hospital where he died despite attempts by doctors to revive him following a cardiac arrest .

Coroner Dr Peter Dean wrote to Suffolk Police to express his concern about the way officers responded to people, who have collapsed after apparently drunk too much.

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He did not recommend officers be trained to intervene when detainees fall ill, and understood there were great difficulties in dealing with people inolved with drugs, drink, and less visible ailments like some head injuries and epilepsy.

But he asked if officers could be trained, to raise their awareness about how difficult it is to exclude such conditions, and the need to take appropriate action where they cannot be excluded.

The Professional and Ethical Standards Unit responded to his letter after members investigated the death and the advice was issued.

Deputy chief constable Gillian Parker said: "It would not be possible or perhaps appropriate, for police officers to receive the level of training to equip them to paramedic standard, however police officers are often first on the scene of a collapsed or incapable individual and it is desirable that they should recognise when medical espertise is required.

"The action I have taken seeks to minimise the potential for a detah in custody by raising officer awarneness in this critical and particularly sensitive area."

A report to be discussed by the Custody Visitors' Committee of Suffolk Police Authority on Friday states: "It is clear from the reports that the arrested person was suffering from a severe medical condition, and the outcome would not have been altered by immediate medical attention."

At the inquest in May this year pathologist Mike Heath said Mr Button, 46, of Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, had an advanced case of cirrhosis, and his death could have happened at any time.

Mr Button's father James said in a statement that his son a successful civil engineer had started drinking when he was divorced in 1994. A jury decided he died of natural causes.

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