News Inquests & Public Inquiries 26th Jun 2019

Gavin Irwin Successfully Navigates ‘Death in Custody’ Inquest for Emergency Medicine Registrar

On 19 July 2017, Darren Cumberbatch died at George Elliot Hospital in the West Midlands. He had been taken there nine days earlier suffering from Acute Behavioural Disorder, brought on by cocaine use and exertion and exacerbated by the restraint techniques deployed by Warwickshire police.

The deceased had been acting unusually before being apprehended by police officers who, due to his continued resistance, caused him to be physically and mechanically restrained for a considerable period of time.

In the final analysis, Mr Cumberbatch succumbed to rhabdomyolysis – an irreversible breakdown of muscle tissue – leading to multi-organ failure. Despite criticism of the ED Registrar, Gavin successfully argued that:

  • the jury be directed to find that the care he provided to the deceased in the minutes and hours immediately after his admission to the Accident and Emergency Department was, at least, adequate and should not form any part of their narrative conclusions;
  • he should not be capable of being identified in video footage released to the media. Consequently, the body worn video and CCTV footage supplied to the BBC and ITV was redacted by facial pixilation.

This tragic case has created a great deal of publicity and caused a root and branch re-appraisal of: the pain compliance (batons strikes, PAVA spray, punching, kicking and TASER) and restraint techniques (handcuffs and leg restraints) deployed by police officers on obviously distressed persons; and, the nature and content of vital early communication between the police, Ambulance Service, first responders, and emergency medicine professionals to ensure best outcomes.

The authorities’ response to Mr Cumberbatch’s ‘odd behaviour’ has been described by H.M. Coroner as a paradigm case study to be used in the training of police officers on the risks associated with what used to be called ‘positional asphyxia’.

Gavin Irwin was instructed by Nick Tennant at the Medical Defence Union

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