Monday, 8 December 2008

Crystal Balls

Mark CAMM was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in 2004 after being found unresponsive to questions in an off licence. He was kept in custody for 24 hours and seen 3 times by medical professionals before being taken to hospital where he died from a bleed to the brain. This of course was a death in police custody and there followed an investigation into the treatment he received. This turned up, via custody CCTV unprofessional conduct in the treatment he received in the form of inappropriate comments and lax checks by police.

I recall a very similar incident involving myself a few years back. I was on foot patrol just before Christmas and came across some builders who had just left a pub. They were holding up a workmate who was displaying all the signs of being very drunk. They were all pretty plastered but in order, telling me this was their end of week and Christmas drink. In relation to their mate who had been drinking for 8 hours, they told me that the cold air had affected him as he left the pub. Usually I would leave them to it, but I asked about their drunk friend and who would be caring for him once they got him home. He lived alone and nobody was going to sit up with him, so I suggested it was in his best interests to be cared for at the station. He was walking smiling mumbling and inebriated and nicked for being drunk and incapable for his own good.

I booked him in and had difficulty understanding him as he was Irish but all was well. The custody officer was happy and he was bedded down on a mattress on the floor and subject to half hour checks. We've got a duty of care to individuals even if they are released, and most custody officers will leave drunks to the early turn changeover before giving them a cup of coffee and sending them on their way, with their hangover. Would you like to be thrown out into the street at 4am?

I came in the next day and chatted to the early turn custody who told me that the drunk was in intensive care in hospital. He had taken over and was not happy with the response from the drunk who should have been more with it, and sent him to hospital straight away. At casualty he had been left on a trolley for longer than he should have been, but when they got round to him eventually he was found to have a slow bleed. The story eventually came back that he'd hit his head on scaffolding earlier in the day, and this was the cause of the bleed. He did survive, and I'm convinced by nicking him I saved his life. There was no comeback but I'm telling you there's no way I could tell he needed medical attention.

It would appear that Mark CAMM was arrested because nobody knew what to do with him. If there was no drink involved and no disturbance or risk to himself or others the officers appear to have taken the easy option. I've had it myself as custody officer when a young woman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly after trying to throw herself in front of traffic. She came before me not drunk but obviously mentally ill. I asked why she hadn't been taken straight to hospital under Mental Health powers, but the officers including a sergeant, looking sheepish came up with a feeble excuse. I think they just wanted the custody number, as they were from a unit with arrest figures to maintain.

I accepted her as a place of safety and ensured she was assessed before being sectioned. I don't think the Mental Health procedures are great either, mental health units will refuse people we take in if they are intoxicated as it means they can't assess them properly. Drink and drugs can mask other symptoms.

As the inquest stated Mark CAMM was failed by police and health professionals. He was a victim of circumstance, with a condition that is extremely hard to pick up. I can't however excuse the inappropriate comments by police.

This is why the poor ambulance service now get called for unresponsive drunks in the street.


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Ex-RUC said...

After my one and only cell death I swore blind that any future drunk and incapables I found would end up in A&E rather than the custody suite. And that was in the 80's!!

Stressed Out Cop said...

Ex Ruc

It's an awkward one isn''t it? Not wanting to put on an overworked A + E - but also being scrutinised about the running of your overworked custody suite. We have certain street drinkers who are always unfit for police detention.

Mark CAMM was unfortunate in the extreme -

Damo Mackerel said...

Hello SOC, That was a very good post. There are a few things I'll like to comment on. First up, the fact that he was drunk and Irish and therefore difficult to understand is nothing new. Most Irish people (including myself) are difficult to understand when we're sober (rare thing that!). The next thing I'd like to say is that you used your common sense and saved this Irishman's life. But as Voltaire said, 'common sense is not very common'. With all the rules, regulations, guidelines etc. People seem to have lost the ability to use their head.. common sense has become even more uncommon.

Stressed Out Cop said...


Very correct - I tend to listen to the alarm bell going off in my head - it stems from experience and being able to make decisions, and justifying them even if if I'm wrong.

It's too easy to go down policy line. 95% of this job is common sense unlike policy - Get it wrong though and you'll be hung out to dry.