IOPC makes learning recommendation to Kent Police following death in custody

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has made a learning recommendation to Kent Police to ensure custody staff adhere to national police guidance around care for detainees following an investigation into the death of a woman in custody.

Oct 26, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Debbie Padley, 43, died in the custody suite at Tonbridge police station in Kent on July 24, 2021.

An inquest this week concluded that Ms Padley died as a result of a serious infection and while she gave contradictory reports of her condition, her death was probably contributed to by the absence of medical intervention at least five hours prior to her death.

The IOPC investigation followed a mandatory referral from the force. It looked at the contact Kent Police had with Mrs Padley following her arrest on July 23 and during her subsequent detention at Tonbridge station until the following day, when she was found unresponsive in her cell by a custody staff member.

“We also examined the level of care she received in custody and whether this was in line with local force policy and national guidance,” it said.

The investigation found that when Ms Padley was processed at the station, officers recorded that she was under the influence of “alcohol/substance”. She also alleged that she had been assaulted but did not initially state she had any injuries.

Between 10pm on July 23 and 12.57pm on July 24, when Ms Padley was found unresponsive in her cell, at least 35 observation checks by custody staff were recorded on the custody log, many of which were brief checks through the spy hole, said the IOPC.

On the morning of July 24, Ms Padley spoke with a custody nurse and she was given paracetamol after complaining of a headache and saying she felt hot. After being found unresponsiveness during a cell check, custody officers immediately provided CPR and requested an ambulance.

Paramedics arrived and provided first aid at the custody suite, however, she was pronounced deceased shortly before 2pm.

“In August 2021, during the early stages of our investigation, we issued Kent Police with a learning recommendation that the force should take urgent steps to ensure custody staff adhere to the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice (APP) relating to detention and custody. In particular, we highlighted the levels of observation and cell checks for those who are under the influence of alcohol and drugs,” the IOPC said.

“We also said the force needed to remind custody staff that welfare checks through spyholes are not an acceptable welfare check and recommended that the force review whether current monitoring systems were sufficient to ensure that custody staff were adhering to the APP. The force agreed with our learning recommendation and advised they would take steps to implement it.”

The investigation concluded in July 2022 and determined that a custody officer – a police sergeant – had a case to answer for misconduct for the observation level they set Ms Padley when she was booked into custody. Following an appeal, the misconduct finding was overturned and the officer was instead referred to the reflective practice review process (RPRP).

We also found performance issues for three officers – relating to the standard of cell checks or reviews they completed and their risk assessment of Mrs Padley – and performance issues for another officer and a detention officer, relating to how they assessed, reported or recorded information Ms Padley disclosed to them. These officers underwent RPRP.

IOPC regional director Mel Palmer said: “Our thoughts are with Debbie Padley’s family, including her four children, following her tragic death.

“When someone dies in police custody it’s important that an independent investigation is carried out to investigate the actions of custody staff and the level of care the person received.

“While it’s clear from the evidence that custody staff were unaware of Ms Padley’s medical condition before she died, early on in our investigation we had concerns about the conduct of cell checks for persons under the influence of alcohol or other substances. This led to an immediate recommendation being issued to Kent Police, who agreed to implement the learning.”

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