Independent Police Complaints Commission
Investigation finds failings in custody staff performance and evidence of a concerning culture
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into the custody of a 17-year-old who committed suicide two days after being released found failings in staff performance and evidence of a concerning culture within a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) custody unit.
Joseph Lawton had been arrested on suspicion of drink driving in the Hazel Grove area of Stockport at approximately 1.45am on 9 August 2012 and taken to Cheadle Heath police station where he was detained until 8.20am when he was released on bail to appear at Stockport Magistrates’ Court. He died on 11 August.
Greater Manchester Police made a voluntary referral to the IPCC on 15 August 2012. It was originally determined that the force’s Professional Standards Branch should conduct an investigation. However, following complaints from his family about the GMPinvestigation the IPCC decided to independently investigate GMP’s contact with Joseph.
The IPCC reviewed custody records, interviewed police officers and examined CCTV images of Joseph in the Cheadle Heath custody unit and spoke with Joseph’s family.
It was concerning to the IPCC that inappropriate comments were made by staff completing a shift change handover, including some that mocked Joseph’s situation. After checking other handovers during the same period an unprofessional conversation between custody staff about an unconnected female detainee, that officers described as ‘banter’, was identified.
The IPCC felt that the comments indicated the existence of an inappropriate and unprofessional culture of male bravado within Cheadle Heath custody suite. A number of other areas of poor practice including failings were also identified. While it was not felt that the comments amounted to misconduct it was recommended that four Sergeants be dealt with by way of unsatisfactory performance proceedings.
The legislation in place at the time of Joseph’s detention meant that 17-year-olds were treated as adults, which meant he did not automatically qualify for the support and help of an appropriate adult at the police station.
The officers complied with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) Code C as it was at the time but it has since been changed after a legal challenge supported by Joseph’s family. The new law, which was also supported by the force and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) improves the arrangements for 17-year-olds held in custody.
A complaint from Joseph’s family that CCTV footage was not secured in a timely manner during the initial Greater Manchester Policeinvestigation was upheld. The IPCC also upheld complaints that the force had given the family conflicting information about CCTV footage and transcripts.
An IPCC learning report that includes advice on improving CCTV, risk assessments, compliance with the changes following the court judgement on how 17-year-olds are to be treated in custody, visits to detainees and supervision has also been sent to the force.
The force has told the IPCC it has accepted the recommendations and implemented a number of improvements as a result of this and other recently concluded IPCC investigations of custody cases. The IPCC will continue to test the implementation of these improvements in any further custody referrals received from Greater Manchester Police.
James Dipple-Johnstone, the IPCC Commissioner for the Greater Manchester area, said: “Joseph’s family have been through a traumatic experience. While we cannot know what the outcome would have been if Joseph’s family had been given information about his detention this investigation has found areas for improvement around how Joseph was looked after by police and also how the force responded to the family’s complaints at a time of crisis.
“I hope the learning taken from these events helps ensure that other families do not experience such problems in future and is some small measure of comfort for them.”
The IPCC recommendations from this investigation and others have been shared with Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Constabulary (HMIC).
Two investigation reports, the learning report, and a foreword written by Mr Dipple-Johnstone have been published on the IPCC website and can be found here.
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