Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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Former Avon and Somerset officer would have been dismissed for gross misconduct

A former Avon & Somerset Police officer would have been dismissed for gross misconduct had he not already retired, after an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into his treatment of a man in custody.

It was alleged that then Police Sergeant Gareth Starr mocked a heavily intoxicated detainee who had urinated and defecated in a police cell, and failed to respond when the man fell over, hit his head and remained motionless for a short time.

The incident occurred on 17 February 2019, when the officer was performing the role of custody sergeant at Bridgwater custody unit. A disciplinary hearing, arranged by the force, heard evidence that the sergeant made mockingly derogatory remarks about the man to colleagues, failed to ensure the man was visited and roused every 30 minutes in accordance with custody guidance, and failed to arrange for a doctor to attend the detainee after the man had hit his head.

Around eight hours after the man had originally hit his head, he was seen by a later shift of custody staff to collapse in the cell. It was arranged for him to be taken to hospital for treatment from where he was later returned to custody.

On 26 November, the panel, overseen by a legally-qualified independent chair, found the former sergeant had breached a range of professional standards including authority, respect and courtesy, duties and responsibilities, and discreditable conduct. They found gross misconduct proven, and concluded he would have been dismissed if still serving.

IOPC regional director, Catrin Evans, said: “Custody staff work in a difficult environment and can face challenging individuals and circumstances on a daily basis. But they have a primary duty of care to ensure the safety and welfare of all those who are detained. This officer was in a position of considerable responsibility and acted in a wholly unprofessional manner in mocking a detainee and ignoring what could have been a serious head injury. He failed to show the leadership expected of a custody sergeant. The disciplinary panel’s sanction means the former officer rightly won’t be able to work for the police service in the future.”   

The IOPC investigation began following a referral from the force, after another custody sergeant had reviewed earlier CCTV footage and raised concerns. Investigators analysed CCTV footage from the unit, custody logs, statements from relevant officers and staff, and took into account safe detention policies. On conclusion of our investigation in July this year, the force agreed with our view that the former sergeant, who retired in August 2019, had a case to answer for gross misconduct. 

Avon & Somerset Police also agreed that three other officers working alongside PS Starr on the same shift, and a later custody officer, had a case to answer for misconduct over their treatment of the detainee. The four were subsequently given management action by the force.

The retired officer will be placed on the College of Policing barred list.

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