Worthing death in custody inquest verdict

THE inquest into the death of Sharon McLaughlin has returned a verdict of natural causes today (Thursday, November 24).

The Herald covered the nine-day inquest and will publish a full report and reaction to the verdict in the Worthing Herald on sale from Thursday, December 1.

Sussex Police, which was investigated after the death by the Independent Police Complaints Commission has just released this statement:

Miss McLaughlin was found dead in her cell while being detained at Sussex Police’s custody centre in Worthing in May 2010. She had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting.

Following the hearing at Chichester Crown Court, Superintendent Russ Whitfield said: “My thoughts are with Miss McLaughlin’s family today after the jury returned a verdict of natural causes.

“I cannot underestimate the impact Sharon McLaughlin’s death must have had on her family. What happened that day was tragic and unforeseen.

“We have fully supported the coroner’s inquest and an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into Miss McLaughlin’s death.

“We accept that there were certain aspects of Sharon’s care that did not meet our normal high standards.

“We have addressed the recommendations made by the IPCC in its investigation reports, which were to review our custody officer training to ensure it is fit for purpose and complies with national guidance and provide refresher training for the officers involved in the incident.

“We have also provided additional training for custody staff in the management of risk and to highlight concerns around detainees in compliance with the Home Office Guidance on the Safer Detention and Handling of Persons in Police Custody as well as introducing our own medical transfer process to monitor risk around detainees, especially for those with known medical issues or those believed to have medical issues.

“This measure has been highlighted as excellent by the HMIC inspectors when they inspected our six custody centres.

“Sussex Police detain 38,000 people a year in our custody suites, many of whom have social, mental health and medical problems.

“This is a task we provide on behalf of the public to keep them safe while we investigate crime and to look after the people we have detained.

“The degree of care that some of our detainees need owing to issues surrounding their lifestyle is significant. We are always looking to implement this level of care balancing it against the needs of the investigation and when tragically things go wrong we will always accept any learning from the IPCC.”

A spokeswoman for Reliance said: “Reliance Secure Task Management has taken the issue of Miss McLaughlin’s death very seriously and has enormous sympathy for her family.

“While she was in custody, her needs were monitored and her welfare was checked at least every 30 minutes. However, we recognise there are some areas where her care could have been better. As the coroner and all medical evidence has confirmed, the cause of Sharon’s death was very sudden and unexpected and there is no evidence to suggest that her time in custody played any part in her death.

“Reliance remains committed to working in partnership with Sussex Police to provide a safe and secure custody environment and will take forward any lessons learned in this case to ensure our training and procedures continue to reflect best practice.”

The cause of death was due to sudden cardiac event associated with chronic drug dependency.

IPCC Commissioner for South East England Mike Franklin said: “My sympathies go to Ms McLaughlin’s family and friends, who must have found this whole process very distressing.

“Ms McLaughlin had already alerted the custody staff that she was a heroin addict. However, for her to be sick while she was in custody and for staff not to take any action is extremely worrying.”

Although no link was established between Miss McLaughlin’s death and the time she spent in custody, it is clear from the evidence that she vomited in her cell during the early hours of 16 May. The custody CCTV records custody staff discussing this, but not taking action to clean her cell or have Ms McLaughlin medically checked.

The IPCC found that she was not treated with the consideration, professionalism and dignity that the public would expect.