Family speak of trauma following police custody death of Thomas Orchard
Thomas Orchard was described as a “wonderful human being who was loved dearly” by his family in a statement.
His mother Alison Orchard had planned to read the two-and-a-half page document, prepared as a victim personal statement, to Judge Julian Lambert at Bristol Crown Court.
This was not permitted following an application by Jason Beer QC, representing Devon and Cornwall Police, who argued that parts of the statement were not “relevant or admissible” in the proceedings.
Mark Heywood QC, prosecuting the case, read extracts of the statement that had been agreed by prosecution and defence teams during an adjournment in the hearing on Friday.
The statement was later released in full on the website of the charity Inquest, which has been supporting the family.
It began: “Everything in our lives is measured as having taken place either before or after Thomas died, such was the trauma of his death.
“Thomas was a wonderful human being who was loved dearly by his family and we think about him with sadness every day.
“We miss his quirky sense of humour, his oftentimes deep and perceptive comments and his huge presence. We miss witnessing the fulfilment he found in everyday life and his faith; his love of runner beans and cats; crosses and candles.”
Mr Orchard had been making “real progress” and was living semi-independently at the time of his death – with his provisional driving licence arriving in the post the day after he died.
His family said they “grieve doubly” for Mr Orchard because of the hole left but also the future he does not have, such as seeing his brother get married or his nephews grow up.
“It’s been painful to witness how an organisation, which had a duty of care for Thomas, was so casual, disorganised and sloppy in their approach to health and safety,” they said.
“Perhaps the hardest thing to hear was how Thomas’ detention could have – and should have – been managed.
“In all this time we have never had a simple apology or genuine acknowledgement that something went horribly wrong that day. It feels simply inhuman.
“Our faith in the police force has also been severely tarnished because of what has happened to Thomas.”
The family said they were “not confident” that failures had been recognised and genuine changes made, adding they feared other safety issues may remain unidentified.
“From a personal perspective, we are fearful of how we would be treated if we needed to call the police,” they said.
They added that to have some good come of Mr Orchard’s death, such as accountability, changes in policy and a shift in police attitudes towards vulnerable people would “go some way towards our healing”.