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Police officer cleared of misconduct following hearing

Added on 06 September 2017 at 14:47

Allegations of misconduct against a police officer have been dismissed following a hearing held at Police Headquarters.

A panel, led by an independent Legally Qualified Chair, found allegations of gross misconduct were not proven against T/Insp Justin French, following a hearing held between 5 and 6 September.

A further misconduct meeting, which won’t be held in public, is due to be held at a future date.

Force crest

The hearing followed recommendations made by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) following its investigation into the death of 25-year-old James Herbert at Yeovil Police Station custody unit on 10 June 2010.

Following the hearing, Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Watson said: “Firstly, our thoughts are very much with the family of James Herbert who’ve had to wait almost seven years for a conclusion to these proceedings.

“James’ death was deeply distressing for everyone involved and we have been, and continue to be, fully committed to do everything possible to ensure lessons are learned from his death and a similar tragedy is prevented from happening again.

“We were unable to hold a misconduct hearing until the conclusion of the investigations by the IPCC, a review by the Crown Prosecution Service, which concluded there would be no criminal proceedings, as well as the Coronial process.

“It’s clear there were missed opportunities in the way we dealt with James on that day and for that we’re extremely sorry, but we haven’t been waiting for the outcome of these proceedings to implement fundamental and wide-reaching changes in how we respond to people experiencing mental health crisis.”

ACC Watson added: “It’s vital that our work doesn’t stop here and we are continually learning and improving in this important area.

“We’re progressing schemes to improve training for officers and want to create teams of experts on mental health legislation and policy across our Force area to help brief our officers and staff on any national and local changes.

“All frontline officers will undergo a classroom training session this autumn specifically around the Authorised Professional Practice (APP) relating to mental health and further training will be given to help officers who carry personal protective equipment recognise the symptoms of people suffering from Acute Behavioural Disorder (ABD).

“We’ll also continue to play a leading role in a review of Section 136 detentions to help minimise the need for these detentions and ensure patients are getting the help they need within the health and social care setting.”

Key changes:

•  In 2012, we worked with our partner agencies to establish places of safety for children subject to detentions under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. We were later able to rule out the use of custody entirely for under 18s.

•  We’ve had a Mental Health and Vulnerability Strategic Board in place since 2012. A regional board was created in 2015 to share best practice.

•  We introduced a liaison and diversion scheme in our custody units to make sure people identified with mental health issues get the help they need – this has helped 1,900 adults and more than 200 young people since its launch.

•  In December 2014, we signed up to the Crisis Care Concordat following extensive liaison with all our partner agencies. This was followed up by an Avon and Somerset Concordat which has progressed a number of positive changes and programmes.

•  Since 2014, we have used a Mental Health tag in our control rooms to highlight incidents involving people in mental health crisis and quickly identify patterns and re-occurring issues. These are then followed up with our partner agencies.

•  A Mental Health Liaison Officer was appointed in 2015 to liaise with mental health services across the Force area.

•  Our first street triage scheme piloted in Bristol in September 2015 where mental health professionals attend incidents alongside police officers to ensure patients get the best possible care from the outset. Since its launch, more than 70 per cent of calls involving the street triage team have meant the patient involved has been diverted from the Section 136 detention route. In collaboration with our NHS partners, we’re now operating a second street triage programme for the North Somerset area.

•  A new incident recording system launched in 2016 enabling officers to record their actions at incidents where Mental Health Act powers have been used. This feeds into our continual learning and improvement and often results in referrals to partner agencies.

•  By June 2016, we drew a line in the sand to ensure no adult detained under Section 136 attends custody unless in exceptional circumstances. In 12 months since it went live, only four adults were brought into custody. One of these cases related to a man who was displaying extremely aggressive behaviour resulting in two critical incidents at a hospital ward meaning he had to be brought into custody.

•  In September 2016, we launched a multi-agency triage pilot which brought mental health nurses into our control room to assist officers on live incidents, including helping with referrals and giving details of patients’ carers. By the end of December the triage system helped officers on more than 2,500 occasions and has prevented police being deployed more than 270 times. In August 2017, the triage team responded to 844 calls for assistance regarding people in mental health crisis and spent just over 22 hours on the phone to patients, carers and professionals.