Handcuffed man set himself on fire in the back of a police van

A man who was arrested, handcuffed and put in the back of police van ended up in hospital after setting himself on fire en route to custody, a probe has revealed.

Police Scotland were called to reports of a man with a knife involved in a disturbance in Arbroath and apprehended a 42-year-old man who managed to smuggle a lighter into the police vehicle before setting himself ablaze.

The man, who suffered burns requiring hospital treatment after the February incident, had concealed the lighter in a side pocket of his tracksuit bottoms which was missed by the arresting officers, prompting a review of how police transport suspects.

An investigation by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) revealed that the suspect – who was convicted in court after being discharged from hospital – had been searched three times before entering the van, but the lighter in a knee-height pocket was not spotted by officers.

Police
Police Scotland have committed to giving officer additional guidance about transporting people to custody (David Cheskin/PA)

During the journey to Dundee Custody Centre, a special constable spotted that the suspect had got out a lighter, but did not mention it or confiscate the device before he had ignited his flammable clothes.

The burning man in the back of the van forced officers to re-route their journey, taking the suspect to Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital for treatment to the “serious injuries” sustained on his right arm.

After being released from hospital, the man was finally taken into custody, charged and was later convicted, despite pleading his innocence.

The PIRC’s investigation into how the arrested man was able to set himself on fire has now submitted a number of recommendations for Police Scotland, including advice to sit facing prisoners while they are in the back of police vans.

The report found that, although the Transit van had a rear-facing seat to allow a police officer to sit and watch the arrested man, “the officer responsible for monitoring the man sat in one of the front forward seats”.

Police Scotland have since confirmed to the PIRC that guidance about how to carry out “professional, effective and diligent searches” has been given to officers to try to reduce the chances of a similar incident happening again, while further advice has also been issued on the risks of handcuffing a person’s hands in front of their body when in custody.

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