Jury find catalogue of failures may have contributed to the death of Jacob Michael in police custody in Runcorn

INQUEST Press Release

Today the jury in the inquest into the death of Jacob Michael returned their verdict.

Jacob Michael died on 22 August 2011 aged 25 following arrest and restraint by police.  He had called the police himself in an agitated state after telling his family he had been threatened.  The police arrived at the house and forced their way into his bedroom, spraying incapacitant spray at him, whereupon Mr Michael ran out of the house and down the street.  The police pursued him, striking him with batons and restraining him before putting him in the back of a police van to take him into custody at Runcorn police station.

He was then left face down on the floor of a police cell for several minutes with police officers standing on his legs.

The jury found that the police officers and staff that dealt with Jacob were:

  • ineffectively trained
  • they failed to follow force procedures
  • they failed to perform a timely medical assessment, leading to a delayed call for medical assistance
  • there was a lack of communication
  • The jury also said that Jacob’s fear, flight and fight response may have contributed to Jacob’s death. This refers in part to the violent arrest and restraint that expert evidence said could have been avoided.

Ann Michael, Jacob Michael’s mother said:

“We believe that, if the police had not stormed into Jacob’s bedroom, he would still be alive. Instead he died on the floor of Runcorn Custody Suite while handcuffed face down and with police officers treading on his legs. The evidence and the verdict revealed shocking ineptitude and complacency both of police officers and staff, individually and organisationally. I hope that Cheshire Police will start to learn the lessons that may prevent similar deaths in the future.”

Deborah Coles, INQUEST co-director said:

“This was a shocking death. Yet again, another inquest into a death following use of force has found failures at an individual and senior management level and those responsible must be held to account. Jacob Michael was an extremely vulnerable young man who called police for help and yet was subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. The sheer lack of compassion shown by these police officers towards a man who was clearly unwell, let alone their failure to follow proper procedure, is hugely worrying. There must be an urgent review by Cheshire police of the way officers are trained to respond to people in crisis with drugs or mental ill health.”

Kate Maynard, solicitor instructed by the family, said:

“The Coroner has drawn to the attention of the Chief Constable of Cheshire that there have now been two deaths in his custody within a short period of time where the individuals have not been recognised as being in urgent need of medical attention. The family hopes that Cheshire police learns lessons from the harsh criticisms from the jury and Coroner today so that other families do not have to go through what Mrs Michael has gone through.”

Notes to editor:

1. For further information please contact:
Hannah Ward, Communications Manager at INQUEST on 020 7263 1111
Kate Maynard, Hickman and Rose on 07812 974613

2. INQUEST provides a general telephone advice, support and information service to any bereaved person facing an inquest and a free, in-depth complex casework service on deaths in custody/state detention or involving state agents and works on other cases that also engage article 2 of the ECHR and/or raise wider issues of state and corporate accountability. INQUEST's policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths occurring.