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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Police left mentally ill prisoner to take fatal overdose – police watchdog

Police left mentally ill prisoner to take fatal overdose – police watchdog

Newport police officer fined and others reprimanded over death in custody of Andrew David Sheppard

Police failed to keep a proper watch on Andrew David Sheppard, a mentally ill man who died in custody of a drug overdose, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found. Photograph: Charles O'Rear/Corbis
Police have been criticised by the official watchdog after a young man with mental health problems died of a drug overdose apparently taken in custody.

Andrew David Sheppard, 22, had been detained under the Mental Health Act and died after spending a night in a cell at the central police station in Newport, south Wales.

Sheppard was found to have cocaine and other drugs in his system and forensic analysis suggested he had taken the substances while in custody.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said individual officers had failed and Gwent police's custody practices of the time needed to be revised.

The IPCC commissioner for Wales, Tom Davies, said: "Andrew Sheppard was a very troubled young man. On the day he was eventually detained by the police for his own safety, both he and his family had sought help. He was taken to hospital by his family but then decided himself to leave.

"Once Mr Sheppard had been detained by the police and taken to what is known as 'a place of safety' he was owed a duty of care by the custody staff. It was clear that he was vulnerable.

"Those custody staff for a variety of reasons did not keep proper records, did not check on Mr Sheppard with the frequency that they should have done, and nor did they keep him under proper observation.

"We have said on numerous occasions that custody is the wrong place for somebody with mental health problems and who invariably may also have taken substances, but we accept that sometimes it is the only place available.

"We sought expert forensic analysis which showed that in all probability Mr Sheppard had taken drugs during the time he was in custody, which shows how poor the observation of him had been that night."

One custody sergeant was fined 13 days' pay and three custody sergeants reprimanded. Four custody detention officers received management advice, along with one of the police constables who detained Sheppard.

The IPCC made eight recommendations to the force about its custody policy, which it said had been implemented since the incident in September 2006.

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