Published Date: 11.09.2014
The Police Ombudsman has recommended that police custody cells should be searched with metal detectors, after an investigation found a man who self-harmed had concealed a piece of razor blade inside a pillow.
Dr Michael Maguire recommended that all police cells should, after being cleaned, be searched with handheld metal detectors to help prevent dangerous items being hidden in them.
He made the recommendation following an investigation into how a man, who had been arrested twice within a week, had been able to use small blades to self-harm after both arrests.
The first arrest happened on 25 November 2012. The man, who was alleged to have made threats to kill and breached his bail conditions, was handcuffed but not searched before being taken to Omagh police station.
Shortly after pulling up at the station, officers realised the man was cutting his neck with a razor blade. The blade was immediately taken off him, and he then informed officers that as well as cutting his throat, he had also taken an overdose. He was given first aid, taken to hospital and received treatment for superficial cuts before being returned to the custody suite.
A week later, on 1 December, police called at the man’s home to arrest him again as he had been recalled to prison. The arresting officer was aware of the previous incident of self-harm and immediately handcuffed him and conducted a thorough search.
His shoes, socks, hood, cuffs, fingers and the waist band of his trousers were all searched. Officers also checked inside his mouth and under his tongue, before placing him inside a cell van and taking him to Omagh Custody Suite.
After arriving at the suite, he was searched using a handheld metal detector. Nothing was found and he was then placed in a cell and officers were ordered to conduct checks on him every 30 minutes.
A short time later a detention officer saw Man A under the blanket on his bed, and noticed staining on the blanket. When he went to investigate, he found Man A holding a small piece of disposable razor blade up to his neck.
The blade was taken off him and he was given first aid before being taken to hospital, where he received 23 stitches to a deep cut on his right forearm.
The following day he was taken to Hydebank detention centre, where he informed staff that he had hidden another piece of blade within the pillow in his cell at Omagh Custody Suite. The cell was searched and a small piece of blade, about the size of a small fingernail, was found.
The Chief Constable asked the Police Ombudsman to investigate whether police misconduct had played a role in the incidents.
When interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the two officers who conducted the arrest on 25 November 2012 accepted that the man should have been searched before being placed in the police car.
The officer who conducted the arrest on 1 December 2012 was also interviewed. He said he was aware of what had happened a week previously and had therefore conducted a thorough search. He had no idea where the man had hidden the blade used to self-harm.
CCTV footage from the man’s cell was also examined, and this corroborated the officers’ accounts of how his injuries were discovered and how he was assisted before the arrival of an ambulance.
Enquiries also established that the mattress and blankets which had been stained with blood at Omagh custody suite had been replaced after the man left the cell, but the pillow had not as it appeared to be in good order.
Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire concluded that the officers who failed to search the man following his arrest on 25 November 2012 should receive management discussions about the importance of searching detainees.
No misconduct recommendations were made in respect of the officers who dealt with the man following his arrest on 1 December 2012.