Church caretaker Thomas Orchard died aged 32 shortly after he was held in police custody in October 2012. Last year a court cleared officers of manslaughter by gross negligence
Devon and Cornwall Police have pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches in relation to an emergency response belt that was used on a church caretaker before he died in custody.
Thomas Orchard, 32, died in hospital seven days after being arrested and taken to Heavitree Road police station in Exeter, Devon, in October 2012.
During his detention Mr Orchard, who had paranoid schizophrenia, was restrained and an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) was placed across his face.
He was then left in a locked cell, where he lay apparently motionless for 12 minutes before custody staff re-entered and commenced CPR.
In dramatic scenes today at Bristol Crown Court, the Chief Constable entered a guilty plea at 2.30pm, shortly after prosecution lawyers rose to their feet.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer has now said he believes his force did not meet the health and safety standards required regarding the restraint belt used on Mr Orchard, and expressed his 'deep regret' to the man's family.
The Office of the Chief Constable pleaded guilty to an offence against Section 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The guilty plea is on this basis - police maintain they were not responsible for causing the death of Mr Orchard.
The court heard the issue of whether the breaches over the use of an Emergency Response Belt (ERB) led to Mr Orchard's death remains outstanding and will be determined by a judge.
The chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police released a statement following the force's guilty plea at Bristol Crown Court on Friday.
Shaun Sawyer said he could now express his 'deepest regret' to the family of Thomas Orchard, who died in hospital seven days after being taken into custody in October 2012.
His statement read: 'From 2002 until 2012, Devon and Cornwall Police researched, procured and trained members of the organisation in the use of an emergency restraint belt.
'That piece of equipment was used during the restraint of Thomas Orchard on October 3 2012.
'Following his restraint and detention, Thomas became unconscious and a week later died.
Stills from police CCTV footage in the cells of Exeter's Heavitree police station in 2012. Thomas Orchard died in hospital the next day
'In the intervening six years, my thoughts have always been with Thomas, his family and friends who have lost a loved one.
'It is only today that I have been able to personally offer my deepest regret to all those individuals.
'From the outset, Devon and Cornwall Police has co-operated fully with the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Shaun Sawyer, expressed his 'deep regret' and said he believed his force failed to meet health and safety standards regarding the use of the restraint belt
In March 2017, a custody sergeant and two staff members from Devon and Cornwall Police were acquitted of Mr Orchard's manslaughter by gross negligence.
A year later, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it had charged the office of the chief constable of the force under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Today the court heard the issue of whether the breaches causes Mr Orchard's death has not been resolved between prosecution and defence teams.
Judge Julian Lambert will decide on the issue during a hearing, expected to last for three days, in April next year.
Prosecuting, Mark Heywood QC, told the judge: "Both parties are agreed that this is a multi-factorial case.
"The issue is whether or not restriction of breathing by application of the belt was a contributory factor [of death]."
The hearing in April will include evidence of Mr Orchard's restraint, including CCTV footage and witnesses.
The judge will also consider the degree of training in relation to the ERB, "which is at the heart of the case", Mr Heywood said.
Jason Beer QC, representing the office of the chief constable for Devon and Cornwall Police, told the court: "The principal issue between the parties is causation and there is a subsidiary issue of training."
An Emergency Response Belt (ERB) that prevents a detainee from biting or spitting, similar to the one used on Thomas Orchard while he was handcuffed and held down
Helen Stone, solicitor at Hickman & Rose, which represents Thomas Orchard's family said: "As far as we are aware, this is the first time a police force has admitted to a health and safety breach in connection with a death in police custody.
"It therefore opens up a new front in society's fight against state wrongdoing.
"All police forces should now review how equipment is approved, reviewed, and trained for use to ensure not only that they comply with the law, but that no other members of the public are put at risk as Thomas was."
She added: "However, the failure of the Office of the Chief Constable to accept that the health and safety breach caused Thomas' death is deeply concerning."
Timeline: death in custody of Thomas Orchard
October 9, 2012 - Mr Orchard is arrested and detained at Exeter's Heavitree police station
After being rushed to hospital, Mr Orchard is pronounced dead
In months after Mr Orchard's death, the IPCC launches independent investigation
2014 - IOPC reccomends charges to CPS against three of the arresting officers, Jan Kingshott, Simon Tansley, and Michael Marsden
January 2016 - First trial at Bristol Crown Court dismissed
January 2017 - All three defendents found not guilty of gross negligence manslaughter
February 2018 - IOPC directs Devon and Cornwall Police to hold misconduct proceedings into all three men who were cleared in court and further three arresting officers
October 19, 2018 - Devon and Cornwall Police plead guilty to breaching Health and Safety At Work Act
'Throughout the last six years, I have had the opportunity to review the totality of this matter and latterly, the evidence provided to me by the Crown Prosecution Service in pursuit of a single offence charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
'In respect of the use of the emergency restraint belt, it is my belief that the standards expected by Devon and Cornwall Police were not met between 2002 and 2012 and did not meet the legal threshold of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
'In the spirit of candour and out of respect to the courts, the family of Thomas, the public and my workforce, I have decided - as the corporate responsibility of this organisation, that it is only right to plead guilty on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police to this charge.
'However, legal matters remain outstanding in respect of whether this health and safety breach caused the death of Thomas.
'We must respect this court process as the judge is still to make a determination on this very issue, and it is not for Devon and Cornwall Police to make a decision on such a critical matter.
'This is an extremely complex matter and it remains to be determined by the court. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment further at this particular juncture.'