Halfway through the inquest now and it has been a mixed set of emotions for the family over these two weeks. It is clear that we have the TVP legal teams on the defensive from their attempts to push the blame and responsibility away from the officers. Over the next fortnight we will now be hearing from hospital staff, and other witnesses as well as experts on training and restraint etc.
This morning statement read out on behalf of Dr Gurram, Senior Anaesthetist who supervised Dr Tran when Habib was admitted to hospital on July 3rd 2008. It was confirmed that there were no injuries caused by the procedures that took place before he was declared dead.
The next statement was from PC Colin Duggan Public Order Department from Thames Valley Police who train staff on use of force who explained his work and credentials. He raised issue of officers who experience injuries and what training the officers would have received. Referred to Officer Safety Management training and updates to their training in recent years. Talked about Basic Command structures and who was responsible for training at a local level.
Duggan confirmed that Police have had training in stop and search and limited training around mouth searches. Officers had completed recertification refresher training. The Coroner asked him about changes in training and what was in place in July 2008, All received Centrix training prior to 2006 as majority had joined the police between 2003-2005. He was asked to refer to the individual officer records and what training they had received. All officers had done rigid handcuff, baton refresher, unarmed skills/contact, personal safety, strikes. There is no specific training of take downs and reference to use of pressure point techniques. He was asked about risks examined in the training? Positional Asphyxia mentioned in handcuff training.
Tony Metzer QC, the family lawyer asked Duggan about the training that the officers had attended. PC Grainger had completed 3 Officer Safety (OS) courses, PC Wynne had 3 and had also done 2 First Aid courses, PC Pomery had done 3 OS courses and 2 FA. DC Bazeley had 3 OS. DS Liles had completed 33 courses up to 2008 and had FA training in 2003 and 2004 and 2007 and received OS training on 2006 and 2007.
Tony asked him about the rationale of the training and Duggan agreed that detainees need to treated lawfully and in accordance to Home Office and police agreed methods. He was questioned about suspects restrained in a prone position and risk factors around weight and if they are under influence of drugs and alcohol. Family lawyer clarified the term death in custody being point of contact rather than referring to physical environment and Independence Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody guidance.
He raised issue of training being intelligible and if Duggan is surprised by an officer referring to it as ‘gobbledegook’! Duggan raised issue of techniques being used outside custody suites. Use of force is a personal decision and there are difficulties outside. Tony suggested that use of approved actions and techniques needs to be lawful and proportionate and that also approved techniques can sometimes can be used in an unapproved manner.
Duggan was taken through the use of force in certain situations – what perceived threat was there from Habib? Only techniques that approved should be used but he disagreed that this refers to controlled environments. Tony concerned about what message this conveys to the police.
If you are permitting unapproved techniques that there is a greater risk of disprortionate force being used where as the police trainer does not believe that only approved techniques should be used. If three or more staff are involved then there does need to be an officer in control and a controller – where was this present in the restraint of Habib? Confirmed that instruction is important and a communication needed between officers
He questioned about drug searches and when you have intelligence and prior knowledge of suspects. All approved techniques must take into account medical conditions/vulnerability and CD agreed that if have that information this should inform their consideration. Were vital signs checked during the restraint was taking place?
It was confirmed ACPO Guidance around mouth searches was adopted but specific policies were adopted AFTER Habib’s death. He Agreed that detainees safety is paramount and should be a priority ahead of the retrieval of evidence. Tony took Duggan through the need for tactical communication and the giving of commands
The police trainer stated that officers need to be vigilant about positional asphyxia at all times and be careful of using protracted application of direct pressure. If it doesn’t work Duggan stated that Officers may try again or if they have not applied it properly. Each use of force needs to be justified and why they may have used both sides will require greater justification
Referenced the ACPO Use of force document – level of force needs to be reasonable if person does not demonstrate a threat or not resisting. If someone has been compliant is there any justification for using maximum force? Quality of threat assessment questioned by family lawyer and the thinking of the officers behind their actions and how this was informed by their training.
All officers were trained in positional asphyxia at this time and also in rear takedown. Guidance is clear about the risks if person is face down, obese/overweight and under influence of drugs or alcohol. Duggan was taken through the risks that were in play at the time of the restraint of Habib and questioned about use mandibular angle techniques and their application in this instance. Tony also pointed out that the training for this was devised by Mr Bleetman who is also going to be given evidence at this inquest shortly.
Tony raised issue of suspicions of feigning not being a block to calling the ambulance if there are any concerns. ACPO guidelines in relation to restraint state that pressure point control with clear officer commands. If subject has something in there mouth an ambulance should be called. Officers are given clear guidance in terms of law and the powers that they have.
TVP Assistant Counsel questioned CD after lunch and sought to predictably downplay and minimise the role of the officers and how they conducted the search and the restraint afterwards. Designed to show that officers were indeed competent and did not abrogate their responsibilities to Habib. He refereed to training and officers in the field and how this can differ operationally from the conditions in real life. He asked for clarification that use of pressure point techniques can effect hearing – is this trying to explain why Habib did not respond?
It was stated ACPO guidelines are interpreted by Police forces in these different ways subject to local conditions. The Counsel for the force raised issues from guidelines and again attempted to deflect the blame away from the officers.
Jurors asked about whether the training differs year by year and to how data is collected and how they use experience gained from officers. Is the training effective? Question was raised about the training and the manuals used – evidence based practice. If Officers do something which is outside their training then they need to be aware of the risks of doing this.
There is a risk of using officers using their own experiences in their operational practice. Training is always reviewed. First Aid training and monitoring ABC but cannot be sure what this was like in 2008.Greater emphasis on monitoring now.
Juror raised questions about communication and encouraging officers to talk and engage with suspects from their training. Do you instruct staff to use non-verbal forms before using force? Tony followed up about non-approved techniques/methods and about checks and balances in their training and stepping outside these. Duggan said this not encouraged but not excluded and he also stated they do tell officers to stick to the training and the manual but if they need to go outside of this that they are still subject to law.
DC Scurlock who was working in Professional Standards Department (PSD) in 2008 gave her evidence. She was going to briefing with the Assistant Chief Constable and later that day had a brief conversation with PC Pomery who told her that he may have grabbed Habib’s throat ‘too hard’.
Tony asked for a copy of the exhibit/note. She stated that she knew Pomery as a colleague and he confirmed that he knew that she worked for PSD. Asked her about previous case but her priority was with the death in custody. He confirmed with her that he would have known that she was there to do with the incident. She was not used to operating these diffictlut circumstances after a death in custody and was conscious of her position in PSD.
DC Scurlock made a note and provided this as part of good professional practice on her part. Her view was that Pomery was extremely worried about what had happened and his actions and about the purpose of doing this was to get the drugs out of his throat. Juror asked about whether Pomery knew that she would have reported back and she confirmed this.