I think it appropriate to share my view on this case.
Mr Burrell’s death takes place in a context. This shapes how we view any story and it is different for all of us, as are the emotions that this case generates.
Chief Constable David Thompson
I make no challenge on the validity of anyone’s views of the context of this story as this is based on their values, views and life experience.
It is for this reason my reflections begin with some facts.
Mr Burrell should not have died.
Both the NHS and West Midlands Police owed him a duty of care. He was very unwell.
Mr Burrell was not detained by the police on the day of his death for policing matters. Officers went to Mary Seacole House on the 30th March 2011, the NHS premises where he was held under the Mental Health Act, at the request of NHS staff because they could not control him, as well as concerns about threats to NHS staff and self-harm. The officers placed him under restraint and then took him with NHS staff to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment and he was then taken to the Caffra ward in the Oleaster Unit and placed in seclusion.
These movements were under the observation of NHS staff. The misconduct proceedings arise from the force used by officers to detain Mr Burrell to allow medical examinations, to free him from restraints and their version of events concerning a face or head covering on Mr Burrell.
The material placed around his face / head was put there by NHS staff to protect people from spitting.
NHS staff entered the seclusion room after monitoring him through a window. He died after attempts to resuscitate him failed.
Quite rightly this case was subject to an independent investigation by the then Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as death had arisen following police contact. Dorset Police criminally investigated NHS staff. The case was inherited by the new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
The NHS review of this case concluded in September 2011, five months after Mr Burrell died.
The IPCC investigation, coronial proceedings, criminal trial and misconduct hearing took almost eight years.
The Gross Misconduct hearing was chaired by a Temporary Deputy Chief Constable and an Assistant Chief Constable from independent forces and a lay member.
I set out these facts because there are some important issues they raise.
It is vital for public trust that matters involving the death of people after contact with the police is independently and rigorously examined.
It is not acceptable that the investigation and proceedings took nearly eight years.
The panel noted the inability for witnesses to have independent recollection after the time that had elapsed and raised concerns over some aspects of the investigation. This extended period of investigation, criminal and misconduct proceedings has had a profound impact on Mr Burrell’s family. It left four officers, and their families, in a professional and personal hiatus for a large part of their police career. It has created a prolonged period of distrust between West Midlands Police and parts of the community. This has been at extensive cost to the public.
NHS staff and police officers have been treated differently. Mr Burrell was an NHS patient and died while under NHS care and treatment. The extended investigation into officers has focussed attention on actions of the police alone which I feel does not reflect the facts. This was not a case of the police arresting someone, it was the police restraining someone at the NHS’s request while they were under their medical supervision.
The case met a standard for the CPS to decide criminal proceedings ought to be brought on the truthfulness of the accounts officers gave. The same position was reached in bringing misconduct proceedings although matters of use of force were examined in the misconduct case too. A jury reached a verdict in the criminal trial applying the criminal standard. In the gross misconduct hearing an independent panel hearing all the evidence made a decision on a balance of probabilities. Our legal and professional process mean we should respect both. A DCC and an ACC from outside West Midlands and a lay member devoted considerable time to hearing the case. I commend the effort that they made to do this and the fact they agreed to undertake this role. I respect their decision and also the officer’s right to appeal the finding which will follow the due process.
It is important to be clear that the officer was dismissed because the panel concluded his account of the face covering on Mr Burrell was not truthful. No findings were upheld concerning the use of force.
In looking across these events I find myself very sad.
Mr Burrell should not have died and I am sorry this happened.
His family has suffered greatly. I feel officers and their families have suffered intolerable personal pressure. The time this has taken has damaged local police community relations. No one can walk away from this case feeling they have won anything.
It has been a tragedy.
We have to do much better than this in the future. I have confidence in the new IOPC and its local and national leadership. We need robust external scrutiny by a fit for purpose body and I believe they are that. I intend to discuss this case with them to ask we reflect from all sides on how this case has been managed. I want us to ensure cases such as this where other agencies are involved are dealt with consistently.
I shall meet and listen to all the officers involved in this case. I have offered to meet Mr Burrell’s family.
We have a stronger approach to managing incidents in mental health premises. I regret the fact officers were deployed as they were that day in 2011 and feel we exercise stronger control on these matters now. The NHS has to be capable of managing its patients. Police restraint in a mental health hospital should not be needed. Today we issue officers spit guards and body cameras which would have improved the response and investigation of this case.
Many see these matters after eight years as not yet resolved. Sadly I agree this is not yet complete. I do however believe that the relationship between police and the community needs to come back together. Eight years will have soon passed and we need to look forward and build confidence in policing.
I would ask everyone to carefully respect the context of how people see this case and how they seek to raise their grievances or air their views. For staff that also means acting within the code of ethics and professional conduct in how personal views are expressed, both on and off duty, and for everyone else the law. I ask us all, at a basic human level, to consider the ordeal Mr Burrell’s family, these officers and their families have and are going through.