Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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Devon and Cornwall Police officers acted in line with procedures over woman in custody who later died

An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation found that Devon and Cornwall Police officers treated a woman in custody, who sadly died soon after in hospital, in line with policies and procedures. 

Anastasia Theofilou, 36, became unwell in a cell at Charles Cross custody suite in Plymouth at around 4.30pm on 3 July 2020. CPR was administered by custody staff and a healthcare practitioner. Ms Theofilou was taken to hospital, where she sadly died the following morning. Ms Theofilou had been arrested at an address in Weston Mill Road and taken into custody at around 1.30pm on 3 July. 

A small plastic bag containing traces of white powder was later found by hospital staff secreted internally on her person. A post mortem concluded that she had died due to the effects of cocaine. 

At the end of a four-day inquest in Plymouth yesterday (Thursday) a jury returned a narrative conclusion. Issuing our findings has awaited the end of the inquest. 

We began our investigation following a mandatory referral from Devon and Cornwall Police. We looked at the level of care provided to Ms Theofilou during the period of detention, including the thoroughness of searches and checks carried out. Investigators reviewed CCTV and body-worn video footage of Ms Theofilou’s arrest and time in police custody as well as relevant police documentation. We also obtained witness statements from officers and staff who interacted with Ms Theofilou and the paramedics who treated her. 

Our investigation found no evidence that Ms Theofilou was either under the influence of drugs or that she had concealed any item internally at the booking in stage. This was supported by our review of CCTV footage.  Ms Theofilou was strip-searched on her arrival in custody with a negative result. The evidence indicates that officers conducted an appropriate and thorough visual inspection during the strip-search. Police personnel stated they had asked Ms Theofilou whether she had any weapons or drugs on her and she had replied not.

We found it reasonable for custody staff to place Ms Theofilou under Level 1 observations requiring a cell visit every 30 minutes. The evidence shows that staff checked on her at regular intervals. A detention officer noticed that Ms Theofilou appeared to be experiencing a seizure when reviewing the CCTV feeds around four minutes after their previous visit to the cell. An ambulance was called promptly, and a healthcare professional attended swiftly to assist in providing treatment. Following the arrival of the Ambulance Service, police officers and staff helped carry out CPR. A detention officer further assisted by performing chest compressions on Ms Theofilou on the journey to hospital.

IOPC regional director David Ford said: “This was a tragic case and I send my condolences to Ms Theofilou’s family and everyone affected by her death. 

“Intimate searches are extremely intrusive and a very significant step when balancing the risk to a detained person versus the need to respect their human rights and dignity.  Police officers have to make case-by-case decisions concerning individuals with a history of drug use and whether an intimate search is justified on each occasion. The relevant PACE Code of Practice does not allow or envisage intimate searches be conducted as a matter of course purely based on a history of drug use. Additionally, they should only be conducted with the informed consent of the detained person. We did not find any evidence in the manner of Ms Theofilou’s presentation which justified an intimate search, taking into account police decision-making was based on what was known to officers at the time. 

“The evidence demonstrates that the medical interventions by police officers and staff were timely and appropriate but were unfortunately unable to prevent the sad outcome.”

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