Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

Police cleared over man's death

The actions of police officers did not contribute to the death of a man being held in custody, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has found.

Stephen South, 36, from Blackpool, died in the town's police station on 8 September 2007, but tests have failed to establish a cause of death.

The IPCC identified procedural errors and a nonchalant approach by officers to national policies and guidelines.

But it concluded there was no evidence these contributed to Mr South's death.

An inquest on Wednesday returned an open verdict on his death.

Spy-hole check

Mr South was arrested after police responded to a report of a domestic violence incident on 7 September.

He was also wanted for failing to answer bail on a shoplifting charge.

What was found was a nonchalant approach to the policies and procedures that exist to ensure the welfare of detainees
Ms Naseem Malik, IPCC Commissioner for the North West

Due to his intoxicated state a custody sergeant decided Mr South was unfit to be read his rights or to undergo a formal risk assessment.

He was put into a Life Signs Monitoring System (LSMS) cell and placed on a schedule of 15-minute visits.

The LSMS cell contains sensors which detect movement, including breathing, which can be monitored from a screen in the custody reception area.

The system also records when the cell door or hatch is opened.

While in the LSMS cell, and until Mr South was declared fit to be read his rights, a total of 25 scheduled visits were made to the cell.

The LSMS system showed the cell door was opened once and the hatch opened six times. On the remaining 18 occasions neither the hatch nor the door was opened.

Procedural errors

Mr South died after he was later transferred to a standard cell.

The inquiry found no evidence to suggest those cell visits were not carried out appropriately.

The procedural errors related to two officers failing to conduct a risk assessment and one of them failing to specify a requirement to rouse Mr South when placed on 15-minute cell visits.

Both officers have received formal words of advice.

Ms Naseem Malik, IPCC Commissioner for the North West, said: "Our investigation has identified a number of procedural errors during Mr South's period in custody.

"However it must be stressed there is no evidence of any of the errors contributing to Mr South's death.

"He was seen twice by medical professionals who had no concerns for his welfare.

"What was found was a nonchalant approach to the policies and procedures that exist to ensure the welfare of detainees.

"Working in a custody suite can be a stressful and busy experience, but that should not be an excuse for ignoring or circumventing nationally recognised guidance and practices."

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