The Independent Police Complaints Commission found there were shortcomings in the detention of a man who had suffered a life-changing head injury.
The watchdog’s investigation found that police actions to arrest the 31-year-old man at hospital and convey him to Ystrad Mynach police station were reasonable, but there was a lack of “adequate communication” between NHS staff and police over the man’s condition.
The investigation also found there were some shortcomings by Gwent Police in implementing required custody procedures while the man was detained.
On September 22, 2012, police were called to Pontllanfraith after they received reports of a man lying in a street drunk. A witness told police at the scene that the man had hit his head on the concrete pavement.
The man was taken by ambulance to Nevill Hall hospital in Abergavenny where he underwent an initial assessment.
A few hours later police were called by staff concerned by the man’s abusive behaviour and took him to Ystrad Mynach police station after arresting him.
The next morning officers called for an ambulance after he became unwell. He was later found to have several fractures to his skull and bleeding to his brain.
IPCC Commissioner Jan Williams said: “A lack of adequate communication between the NHS and police in this case, together with shortcomings in implementing custody procedures, led to a distinct lapse in the standards expected for detaining someone in police custody.
“It concerns me that police had no written information from medical staff over the man’s condition when he was removed from the hospital, and no protocol was in place to do so. I am pleased that Gwent Police has since taken steps to ensure that documented information is provided by A&E departments to accompany any person being taken from hospital into police custody, so that custody nurses can make informed decisions about detention and treatment.
“I recognise police were in a difficult position with limited options when called to the hospital. They took sensible steps to check the man’s history and seek help for him prior to conveying him to the police station. While police did maintain regular observations on the man in custody and he did not complain of being unwell, no medical assessment was carried out and officers appeared to attribute his behaviour to drunkenness rather than the effects of a head injury.
“The custody sergeant was not fully apprised of all relevant information around the arrest and did not adequately question the causes of the man’s attendance at hospital. I have urged Gwent Police to conduct force-wide training on dealing with head injuries and further work to ensure all officers are aware of their responsibilities in the custody manual.”
The IPCC investigation found no case to answer for misconduct against any individual officers, but recommended the force address performance issues for the custody sergeant.
There were discrepancies between the recollection of events at the hospital between nursing staff and police officers, with nursing staff saying officers were made aware of concerns about the man’s head injury and the officers saying it was described to them as a ‘small cut’.
A spokesperson for Gwent Police said: “We welcome the IPCC report into this incident and we have learned lessons as an organisation. We are encouraged that the IPCC found many aspects of this incident were dealt with positively and recognised that officers were in a difficult position with limited options when called to the hospital.
“The IPCC highlight the appropriate steps officers took while faced with a complex situation including the decision to take the injured man to the custody unit; the steps taken to check the man’s history and to seek help for him prior to conveying him to custody. They also found that police maintained regular observations on the man in custody.
“The report makes it clear that there were some aspects that could have been better dealt with, largely around communication within the custody process. We have implemented all recommendations from the report: a documentation sharing protocol has now been implemented between ourselves and the NHS; regular training on dealing with head injuries is in place for all officers and is now part of a training programme specifically for custody sergeants.
The sergeant in question has received management action. We are committed to ensuring that those who have suffered a head injury are dealt with appropriately from the time an officer attends an incident and throughout the custody process.”