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Police and ambulance restraint 'failures' contributed to man's death, jury finds

The way that police restrained a man who was ill after taking amphetamines contributed "more than minimally" to his death, an inquest jury found.

Leon Briggs, 39, a father of two, died in November 2013 after being detained at Luton police station under the Mental Health Act, following being held facedown by officers in the street.

His primary cause of death was "amphetamine intoxication with prone restraint and prolonged struggling.”

A jury found a number of serious police and ambulance failures and recorded a conclusion that his death was "contributed to by neglect.” A secondary cause of death was coronary heart disease.

Officers were called to Marsh Road, Luton, on 4 November due to concerns about Leon Briggs’ erratic behaviour.

After being restrained face-down, handcuffed and placed in leg restraints, Mr Briggs, a lorry driver, was lifted into a police van "like he was a bag of potatoes", a witness, Wendy Hamilton, said.

Mr Briggs was carried into the police station shouting and screaming in distress. He was detained in a cell but became unconscious and was pronounced dead in hospital roughly two hours later.

The inquest in Milton Keynes was told acting sgt, Loren Short, and PC Geoff Bennett restrained Mr Briggs.

The officers said they "wanted to do the best they could" while he was "shouting, struggling, and kicking out", but the lawyer for Mr Briggs's family accused them of "telling a pack of lies.”

Witnesses said they heard Mr Briggs call out "please help me" while he was restrained facedown in a "dangerous position" on the concrete for more than 13 minutes.

The jury found that "inappropriate weight" was used against him although police officers did "reasonably believe" it was appropriate.

Before the inquest, East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) paramedics who attended admitted failing to check Mr Briggs' vital signs or taking him to hospital in an ambulance for medical treatment.

EEAST clinical general manager, Lewis Andrews, told the inquest that paramedics who watched Mr Briggs being restrained "did not even speak to Leon" or "offer medical advice to police."

Jurors said Mr Briggs had been experiencing psychotic disorder, caused by high usage of amphetamines, resulting in erratic and irrational behaviour and his subsequent detention.

Officers failed to recognise he was in a state of medical emergency and did not monitor him in the police van and cell, which also contributed to his death, the jury said.

The jury heard officers were "laughing" as Mr Briggs was motionless and lying face down in the cell. Officers later called out his name and asked "are you all right?"

In a statement after the inquest, Mrs Margaret Briggs said: "Why did the police choose to treat my son, who was mixed race, as if his life had no value? They took away his human rights.

"To this day, those police officers still have their jobs and livelihoods and no one has been punished for Leon's death. There has been no accountability or justice."

She said said the conclusion of neglect did not "reflect the evidence” and added: "I am disappointed that the jury did not return a verdict of unlawful killing."

Bedfordshire Police said the jury had "identified a number of significant failings by the police" for which it was "truly sorry", adding the force had made "extensive changes" since.

In 2018 the CPS said no officers would be charged over Mr Briggs's death but Mrs Briggs urged the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to "reconsider bringing prosecutions".

Mrs Briggs said she had "been truly shocked by the brutality of the treatment" of her son and "by how he suffered in his last hour of life."

She said: "He committed no crime and yet was restrained face down on the floor - with force used against him - and he was shackled.”

Bedfordshire Police deputy chief constable, Trevor Rodenhurst, said Mr Briggs's loved ones had "to wait far too long to hear all the facts surrounding his death.”

He said Mr Briggs "was suffering a drug-induced psychosis triggered by amphetamine levels described by one expert as being 'off the scale'.”

He added: “Unbeknown to officers he also had a serious underlying heart condition. There is no easy way of managing such a situation."

PC Peter Baron, who assisted officers during the restraint, told the inquest the way Mr Briggs was moved from the ground to the police van went against the "approved technique.”

Secretary of Bedfordshire Police Federation, Emma Carter, said she disagreed with the jury's conclusion that Mr Briggs was restrained in a dangerous way, and said officers "did their very best" to deal with "a very tragic incident.”

Ms Carter added "six colleagues were suspended from duty for more than five years as part of this process.”

At the time misconduct proceedings were dropped against five officers in February 2020, more than £1m of public money had been spent on their pay while they had been suspended.