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Church caretaker who died after being restrained in custody "was never aggressive"

Fri 15 Jan 2016
By Antony Bushfield

The mother of a church caretaker who died after he was restrained by police officers while in custody has told a court he was never aggressive or violent.

Alison Orchard said her son Thomas, 32, could be "abrupt" but she had never witnessed him try to bite someone.

The church caretaker suffered a cardiac arrest in his cell at Exeter's main police station on October 3 2012, after being arrested in the city centre on suspicion of a public order offence.

Mr Orchard had been held down for more than 20 minutes by several police officers and detention staff, who also placed a large webbing belt across his face - to try to prevent him from biting or spitting.

When staff re-entered his locked cell at Heavitree Road police station they discovered he was not breathing. He died in hospital seven days later.

Custody Sergeant Jan Kingshott, 44, and civilian detention officers Simon Tansley, 38, and Michael Marsden, 55, are on trial accused of killing Mr Orchard. They each deny two charges of manslaughter.

In a written statement, Mrs Orchard detailed her son's descent into mental illness after "dabbling in recreational drugs" in his mid-teens.

"By the age of 18, Thomas's drug issues had become more serious and, by the time he was in his early 20s, he was taking heroin," she told Bristol Crown Court.

"At the age of 18 or 19, he started suffering from mental health problems."

On his 21st birthday, Mr Orchard was sectioned after the police and doctors were called to the family home and he spent six weeks in a mental health unit.

He got involved in petty crime to fund his drug habit and was sent to prison for a few months in his early 20s, Mrs Orchard told the court.

"When he came out, he was in a terrible state and he said he never wanted to go back. His appearance I would describe as completely mad. He was scared and saying people were after him."

He was again sectioned and spent another three years in a mental health unit, where he turned to Christianity and later joined St Thomas's Church in Exeter.

Mrs Orchard added: "I have been asked if I had ever seen Thomas express behaviour such as biting. I have never seen this type of behaviour.

"I have seen Thomas angry and just flail his arms about like a child having a tantrum but I have not seen that for ten years. Thomas could be abrupt but it was in a nice way."

The court heard from Mr Orchard's support worker Nicholas Durant, who said he never witnessed any outbursts from him.
But he said Mr Orchard had visibly relapsed in the days running up to his arrest.

Doctors were checking Mr Orchard daily and, on the day of his arrest, an assessment was scheduled to consider admitting him to a psychiatric unit.

Revd Georgina Vye, curate at St Thomas's, said Mr Orchard was a valued member of the church community but on the morning of his arrest he swore at her.

"I have never heard him swear before and this was completely out of character," she told the court.

The trial was adjourned.

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