A custody officer who found a man unresponsive in his police cell has told an inquiry that she was in a “state of panic” as she called for help from colleagues.
Police custody officer Valerie Campbell was giving evidence at the fatal accident inquiry into the death Warren Fenty, who died at Kittybrewster Police Station in 2014.
The FAI at Aberdeen Sheriff Court has heard that Mr Fenty arrived at the newly-opened custody suite on June 28 after the overdose the night before.
In the early hours of the next day Ms Campbell found him unresponsive in his cell.
‘I was in a state of panic’
Fiscal depute Muhammad Sadiq asked her why she did not use a radio or sound a panic alarm when she failed to rouse Mr Fenty.
“At that stage, I will be honest, I was in a state of panic,” she said. “I didn’t know the guy. I hadn’t done a check on him before and I had no idea what to expect.
“I knew it didn’t look quite right but I had no idea it was as serious as it was. I was not wearing a radio and it didn’t enter my head to use the panic alarm.”
She said she went for a “second opinion” given that there are many reasons someone might fail to be roused.
“I was in a state of shock and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what the situation was,” she said.
“I was thinking ‘this is not right, what do I do now?’ I had never come across Warren Fenty before. I didn’t know what was normal or not normal for him.”
She told solicitor Kate Bennet, representing Mr Fenty’s family, that she didn’t seek immediate medical assistance because there was no nurse or doctor on site.
She instead shut the cell door and called for help from her colleagues.
Custody suite was busy on the night of death
Earlier in the day, PCSO Alison Murison, who had checked on Mr Fenty multiple times through the night, said she had found him in good spirits and “laughing and joking” with her.
She said: “Warren Fenty recognised me from when I worked at G4S and said it was nice to see me.
“We had general chit-chat. He laughed and joked when I told him I had moved jobs because this was better hours.
“I had no concerns about him.”
Her colleague Derek Dawson told the inquiry last week that the block was very busy on the night Mr Fenty died.
Mr Dawson said the suite was “understaffed” and he had been “running around like a headless chicken”.
He said there were 42 custodies that night and 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.
Ms Murison agreed the custody suite was busy that night.
She said: “It was basically hit the ground running from the moment we got in because it was so busy.
“There were things at Kittybrewster that weren’t working so one PCSO (police custody security officer) was helping police officers with check-in rather than being on the floor with us.
“There was just two of us rather than three. At Queen Street if we got too busy we would move them out to Stonehaven or Inverurie or wherever, but at Kittybrewster that was not the case. Forty-two custodies was a lot in comparison to Queen Street.”
“I did two rounds of checks completely on my own.”
Mr Fenty deemed ‘high risk’ of harming himself
Last week ARI consultant John Lee told the inquiry about Mr Fenty’s time in the high-dependency unit.
He was in the process of being weaned off the drug to counter the effects of the overdose when he removed the cannula from his own arm and demanded to be discharged.
Mr Fenty’s psychiatric assessment deemed him fit for discharge and, at around 3.30pm, police formally detained him over drug possession allegations and took him to Kittybrewster.
Police officers who gave evidence said that Mr Fenty was deemed at “high risk” of harming himself in custody and so was put on suicide watch and checked every 30 minutes.
However, they all said that they did not receive paperwork informing them about the specific treatment he had received in hospital earlier that day.
The inquiry continues.
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