Police custody staff commended for vigilance after drugs overdose

Published Date: 27.06.2023

Police custody staff have been commended for ensuring the wellbeing of a man who became critically ill after taking drugs he had smuggled into a police cell.

The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Marie Anderson, said the man received the emergency medical treatment he needed thanks to the vigilance of custody staff and a police healthcare professional.

She said an investigation by her office found that custody staff worked closely with the healthcare professional to keep the man under close supervision, and that an ambulance was summoned when he became less responsive. 

He was assessed at hospital as being in a critical but stable condition, and was admitted to intensive care. He discharged himself two days later. The incident happened in Belfast in December 2020.

Mrs Anderson said custody staff had acted “to protect the health and safety of a detainee who had ingested drugs after concealing same” and said such incidents were “a recurring operational challenge for police and civilian staff in custody suites.” 

Police informed the Police Ombudsman’s on-call team when the man fell ill. An investigation was initiated to determine whether appropriate steps had been taken to stop the drugs being smuggled into the custody suite, and whether police staff had fulfilled their duty of care to the detainee.

Enquiries by Police Ombudsman investigators established that the man had been strip searched before being taken to a cell, after he was found to have concealed a tablet in his mouth.

Two further strip searches were authorised after custody staff monitoring CCTV footage saw the man repeatedly reaching into his trousers and placing items in his mouth. During one search, custody staff found a ‘wrap’ of suspected drugs on the cell floor. 

Custody staff complied with instructions from the healthcare professional that the man should be wakened every 15 minutes to check on his responsiveness.

During one of those checks, staff noticed that the man was less responsive than he had been. They called for the healthcare professional who noted that the man had ‘reduced levels of consciousness’. He admitted having taken ‘a cocktail of drugs’ and an ambulance was summoned to take him to hospital.

Mrs Anderson said: “All direction and guidance given by the healthcare professional was followed by civilian custody staff and the use of intimate searches was avoided in preference to less invasive strip searches.

“The detainee survived this critical incident and I commend the actions of custody staff in the circumstances.” 
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