A police report into the death of a 20-year-old at an Aberdeen custody suite has called the cell checking routine on the night he died as “lackadaisical”.
Warren Fenty died in his cell at Kittybrewster custody suite in June 2014, just hours after being checked in there following treatment for a drug overdose.
An inquiry into his death today heard an extract from a senior police officer’s report, which criticised both the supervision Mr Fenty received and the sharing of information surrounding his medical treatment.
Aberdeen Sheriff Court also heard how the CCTV was not working in the cells that evening and that the sergeant in charge felt the new facility had opened “prematurely”.
Giving evidence today retired sergeant John Philip, who was on duty the night Mr Fenty died, read an extract from a report into the death prepared by Inspector Mark Fleming.
It criticised officers’ failure to record Mr Fenty’s hospital treatment on the suite’s computer log and suggested those monitoring his cell every 30 minutes were not thorough enough in their checks for a verbal response.
The report read: “Although declared during the vulnerability assessment that he had overdosed on methadone the previous evening and it being widely known that he had been hospitalised as a result of this, the failure by sergeants (Gareth) Hannan and Philip to acknowledge this information on the Cellfile record resulted in staff being unaware of the potential risks he posed.
“The omission of such information contributed to what was ostensibly a lackadaisical approach to the cell visits and rousing checks by Constable (Derek) Dawson and PCSO (Alison) Murison.”
Security system not working properly
The inquiry previously heard that a combination of “teething problems” with equipment, a ‘dirty protest’ in one of the cells, and the need to help with medication hand-outs had resulted in staff being over-stretched on the night Mr Fenty died.
Today it also emerged that the CCTV in the new block was not fully operational and the system used for allowing officers entry through the car park and to locked doors was also not working right.
Mr Philip, who was the sergeant in charge during the night shift when Mr Fenty was unwell, said he believed the suite had opened “prematurely”.
“That was just my opinion at the time,” the 56-year-old said. “We had moved from a cell block with 30 cells and doubled up to Kittybrewster with 60 cells.”
The retired police officer also spoke of the technical challenges they faced on the night Mr Fenty died.
He said: “I do think there were a few snagging issues. It’s six years since I retired but the Genesys system to allow access to the car park then through two secure doors was a system of locks and CCTV.
“My position was we hadn’t been fully trained in the use of the system. It seemed to be slowing things down as far as getting people booked into custody.
“That was just one of the teething problems we had.”
He said there was a CCTV system covering four cells at the old Queen Street suite where they would place those at high risk of harming themselves.
But he said that capability was not available at Kittybrewster in June 2014.
“As far as I can recall we didn’t have it fully operational at that time,” he said. “It certainly would have helped.”
Confusion over cell checks
He added that it was “standard practice” for officers accept a “grunt, moan or groan,” as a sign that custodies were well.
During one of his half-hourly checks, on Mr Fenty he received an “aah” response when he asked “are you okay?”.
Gareth Hannan – who is now an inspector – told the inquiry staffing levels at Kittybrewster have almost doubled now, with two inspectors available and up to eight officers on shift at a time.
However he said the new custody suite was busy on the weekend Mr Fenty died.
He said: “In the last seven years I don’t think I have ever seen a cell block as full as I have that weekend, and with a couple of difficult individuals to manage as well.”
There were 42 custodies that night, in comparison to a maximum of 30 ever held at the old suite at Queen Street, and they were being checked upon by two officers.
The inquiry, before Sheriff Morag McLaughlin, continues.
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