A mum whose son died after being restrained by police says she remains shocked by the “utter disregard for his life” as he lay dying in a cell.
Margaret Briggs said the inquest into her son Leon Briggs’ death allowed his “story to be told for the first time” – more than seven years after he died – but added she feels there has been “no justice” for her family.
A police chief apologised for “significant failings” after an inquest jury found the death of the 39-year-old mixed-race man was partly caused by the way officers restrained him.
An inquest jury today found the force and technique used by Bedfordshire Police officers in restraining Mr Briggs face-down on the pavement before taking him into custody “more than minimally contributed to his death”.
The dad-of-two had taken drugs and was suffering a mental health crisis before police detained him under the Mental Health Act using handcuffs and leg restraints on November 4, 2013.
Mr Briggs died around two hours later at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital of “amphetamine intoxication in association with prone restraint and prolonged struggling”, with a secondary cause of heart disease, senior coroner Emma Whitting said.
Today an inquest jury found the use of force by officers who restrained him for more than 13 minutes in a “dangerous” face-down position on the concrete “more than minimally contributed to his death”.
The jury also found that although police officers did “reasonably believe” it was appropriate to use force to restrain Mr Briggs while he was suffering a psychotic episode and had taken amphetamines, “inappropriate weight” was used against him “at times”.
Officers’ failure to recognise that Mr Briggs was in a state of medical emergency, and failure to monitor him in the police van and cell, also contributed to his death, the jury said.
Paramedics from the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, (EEAST), who attended calls to Marsh Road where Mr Briggs was restrained, had already admitted prior to the inquest the failure to check Mr Briggs’s vital signs or take him to hospital in an ambulance for medical treatment
Bedfordshire Police officers had attended a call over concerns that Mr Briggs was “behaving unusually”, by darting into shops, talking to himself and wandering into traffic.
After Mr Briggs pushed past acting Sergeant Short and PC Geoff Bennett, they used “excessive force” to restrain him face-down on the concrete in a “very dangerous fashion”, according to Dexter Dias QC, who was representing the Briggs family.
Witnesses said they heard Mr Briggs call out “please help me”, while another described him as “like a child crying out for a toy”.
The officers said they “wanted to do the best (they) could” for Mr Briggs while he was “shouting, struggling, and kicking out”, but Mr Dias accused them of “telling a pack of lies”.
Experienced paramedic Kevin Meade and emergency care assistant Sarah Freeman also attended Marsh Road, but failed to check Mr Briggs’s vital signs which could have indicated that he needed to go to hospital rather than custody.
Ms Freeman described carrying out a “visual assessment” because Mr Briggs being clothed, struggling and handcuffed made it “difficult” to carry out proper pulse and temperature checks.
Lewis Andrews, clinical general manager at EEAST, agreed with Mr Dias that the medics “did not even speak to Leon” or “offer medical advice to police” when they saw he was being restrained in a “dangerous” way.
But Ms Freeman agreed with Bedfordshire Police’s lawyer John Beggs QC that officers were “doing their best” with Mr Briggs and did not “deliberately try to hurt” him.
PC Peter Baron, who assisted the officers as Mr Briggs was restrained for more than 13 minutes, admitted the way they moved him to a police van “wasn’t ideal”.
PC Daniel Sullivan, who teaches personal safety and physical training for Bedfordshire Police, said some of the officers who carried Mr Briggs to the van had no training to do it correctly, and his treatment breached national guidelines.
The jury was shown CCTV footage of the moment Mr Briggs arrived at the police station repeatedly shouting “no” and screaming.
Members of his family left the room while the CCTV was shown because they found it “distressing”.
Several officers carried Mr Briggs into a cell before he lay still, face-down and silent for a few minutes before officers called out his name and asked “are you alright?”, while one referred to him “sweating”, before attempting to resuscitate him.
Sweating should have been a “key indicator” that Mr Briggs was suffering from acute behavioural disturbance (ABD), the inquest previously heard.
The inquest heard that PC Baron went to wash his hands instead of immediately checking on Mr Briggs.
Mr Dias accused officers of ignoring the “potentially life-threatening” signs of positional asphyxia, a condition in which a person cannot breathe adequately.
He said Mr Briggs was having an “acute mental health crisis” and should have been treated as a “medical emergency”, instead of being left alone in the cell.
The family’s lawyer, Gimhani Eriyagolla, reading a statement outside the court in Milton Keynes on behalf of Ms Briggs, said there is “no justice”.
Mrs Briggs’ statement said her life changed forever when her son was “cruelly and brutally taken away.”
His children lost “a devoted and much-loved father. Since then, all we have wanted, is to know how a vulnerable man who needed help could end up dead in police custody.
“Over the last seven-and-a-half years, we have faced what can only be described as a travesty of justice.
“Instead of learning lessons from what happened, the police have closed ranks, they have tried to disrupt and derail the investigation from the start.
“During this inquest, we have heard evidence that has convinced my family and me, that Leon was unlawfully killed by the police – this should have been the verdict today.”
The family added there is “no justice for people like Leon” and they “think race is very much an issue in this”.
Ms Briggs, 67, added: “I have been truly shocked by the brutality of the treatment of Leon, and by how he suffered in his last hour of life – he had committed no crime, and yet he was restrained face down on the floor with force used against him, and he was shackled.
“I have been shocked by the utter disregard for his life as he lay dying on the police cell floor. Why did the police choose to treat my son, who was mixed-race, as though his life had no value? They took away his human rights.
“How can a family move on from this? I do not know, but all we can do is carry on the best we can.”
Bedfordshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst said the family was forced to wait “far too long” to hear the facts surrounding Mr Briggs’ death.
He said “The jury has today identified a number of significant failings by the police which contributed to the death of Mr Briggs and for this we are truly sorry.”
Mr Rodenhurst also said Mr Briggs’ “drug-induced psychosis” and “serious underlying heart condition” were “unbeknown to officers”, and added that the force had made “extensive changes” since his death.
EEAST offered its “deepest condolences” to the family of Mr Briggs, apologising for its medical assessment falling below standards and adding it was acting on lessons learned.