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Aberdeen mum claims son’s police custody death inquiry fails to deliver closure or justice

Sharon Fenty holds Police Scotland responsible for her 20-year-old son Warren's drug overdose death in a jail cell at Kittybrewster police station nearly 10 years ago.

Aberdeen mum Sharon Fenty has waited nearly a decade for answers about her son Warren's death in a police cell at Kittybrewster. Images: Roddie Reid/DC Thomson/Family handout
Aberdeen mum Sharon Fenty has waited nearly a decade for answers about her son Warren's death in a police cell at Kittybrewster. Images: Roddie Reid/DC Thomson/Family handout

An Aberdeen mum slammed authorities for making her wait almost a decade for a long-overdue report into her son’s police custody death, accusing an inquiry of failing to deliver closure or justice.

Sharon Fenty, 54, told The Press and Journal that she hasn’t been able to grieve since her 20-year-old son Warren died alone in a Kittybrewster police station cell in 2014.

She also told The P&J that, after reading the findings of Warren’s fatal accident inquiry (FAI), she holds Police Scotland responsible for allowing him to succumb to a methadone overdose.

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle found that “institutional failures” caused Police Scotland to miss opportunities that, if taken, would “likely” have avoided tragedy by getting the young man life-saving treatment before it was too late.

“If you’re not safe in a police custody cell, where are you safe?” Sharon asked, adding: “Young boys shouldn’t be going into police cells and then their parents being told that they’re dead.”

‘Chaotic’ custody centre wasn’t run properly with welfare checks on Warren mostly inadequate

Reacting to the 39-page report published on Friday afternoon – Mrs Fenty called for heads to roll.

The FAI had previously heard evidence of “chaotic” scenes at the recently opened brand-new but understaffed lock-up, where only a couple of police officials were looking after the welfare of 42 people.

Mr Fenty was on suicide watch, requiring half-hourly checks in which police personnel were expected to rouse and speak with him on every visit.

They were not supposed to leave until they secured a distinct verbal response from Mr Fenty.

Kittybrewster Police Office.
Kittybrewster police station’s custody centre detained Warren Fenty in one of its cells. Image: DC Thomson

However, the inquiry was told, that neither of the two officers knew of his recent methadone overdose or that he’d previously been discharged from hospital and had later vomited at the police station.

Between 10.43pm and 6.40am Pc Derek Dawson and Pcso Alison Murison carried out a total of 14 checks on Mr Fenty in his cell, but only received a distinct verbal response on three of those occasions.

A colleague, Pcso Campbell, eventually discovered Mr Fenty unresponsive at 7am on June 29 2014, but by then his life had slipped away.

‘I hold Police Scotland responsible for Warren’s death’

“Police Scotland should have staffed their custody centre much better than they did, with more experienced staff, who knew what they were supposed to do, and did it properly,” Sharon went on.

“How did police bosses think two people were enough to look after 42 detainees at the same time?

“I hold Police Scotland responsible for Warren’s death because he was in their custody when he needed life-saving help and they didn’t get it to him.”

The Fenty family has branded the determination “not worth the paper it’s written on” after claiming its conclusions are “nothing they didn’t already know”.

Sharon Fenty and her son Warren. Images: Family handout

“We have not got justice today with the publication of the FAI. We have not got justice in a system that says the state did not keep Warren safe.

“We thought there would be some closure or peace in hearing the result of the FAI, but we feel worse. We didn’t learn anything today that we didn’t know ten years ago – where is the mention of consequences for the wrong-doers?”

The Fenty’s much-loved son, brother and nephew, who they described as “lively and loving, with a huge heart” said he’d been robbed of “so many possibilities ahead of him”.

They added that the first-time drug user had been badly let down by his custodians at the time.

“This is something that young people do every day, and it shouldn’t be a death sentence,” Sharon said.

Police Scotland offers ‘deepest condolences’ and assurances of safety improvements

In a statement, under-fire Police Scotland said it had fully co-operated with an independent probe by its independent regulator, the office of the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC).

Chief Superintendent Pat Campbell, Head of the constabulary’s Criminal Justice Services Division offered the force’s “deepest condolences” to the Fenty family.

Noting the findings, he added that PIRC’s probe “resulted in a number of observations being made”.

The senior officer went on to explain that they “focussed on staff training, improvements to record keeping and enhancing communication with medical staff when a prisoner is brought into custody from hospital.

“All recommendations were subsequently implemented and rolled out nationally and have been in place for a number of years now,” the Ch Supt explained.

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle. Image: DC Thomson

Since Warren Fenty’s death, staffing at the controversial Kittybrewster lock-up has “nearly doubled” and “there is now a nurse on-site at all times,” according to the sheriff principal’s determination.

The document summarised the evidence of 19 witnesses heard over 12 days at Aberdeen Sheriff Court and heavily criticised the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Sheriff Principal Pyle noted that the COPFS only referred Warren Fenty’s case to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service in March 2020, almost six years after he lost his life.

Some of the delays to the beginning of the FAI’s court proceedings were blamed on a period of more than three years, during which Crown officials responsible for the investigation of all sudden, suspicious, accidental and unexplained deaths did nothing to progress the case.

‘COPFS deeply regret the time taken to conclude our investigation’

But Procurator Fiscal Andy Shanks, who leads fatalities investigations for the COPFS, insisted that significant improvements had since been made in-house.

“COPFS deeply regret the time taken to conclude our investigation into Mr Fenty’s death and we have previously apologised to his family for not meeting the standards expected,” Mr Shanks explained.

“We understand the impact that waiting for investigations to conclude has on families and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise again.

“The way in which deaths in custody are investigated by the Procurator Fiscal has been transformed in recent years.

“Our specialist lawyers are dedicated to delivering this vital work, which involves the input of partners and experts, and to try to minimise delays where we can.

“We are committed to improving our engagement with families. This includes providing families with information at the earliest possible stage to allow them to fully participate in the investigation process,” the Crown official added.

Sheriff commends ‘major changes’ by Crown that he claims boosts ‘accountability and scrutiny’

His claims were confirmed in Sheriff Principal Pyle’s ruling that accepted that “major changes have been made in the investigation of sudden deaths”.

The sheriff principal acknowledged “a very substantial increase in the available staffing resource”.

He added that “there is now a very helpful system in place for the Crown to give quarterly progress reports to each of the sheriffs principal on the investigation of deaths within each sheriffdom.

“That secures an element of accountability and scrutiny, which my colleagues and I regard as a significant change.”


Police criticised as sheriff rules Aberdeen man’s death in custody ‘likely’ avoidable

The many twists, turns and tears in Scotland’s longest-ever police custody death inquiry

Comment – Justice system guilty of making Warren Fenty’s mother suffer for a decade

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