by Alan Quick

THREE men including a police sergeant have denied killing a church caretaker who collapsed in custody.

Sgt Jan Kingshott (43), denies the manslaughter of Thomas Orchard (32), formerly of Crediton, who had been arrested in Exeter.

Civilian detention officers Simon Tansley (37) and Michael Marsden (54), deny the same offence.

All three, who also deny unlawfully killing Mr Orchard by gross negligence, were bailed at Bristol Crown Court for trial on January 12.

Thomas Orchard died on October 10, 2012 after being found unresponsive in a cell at Exeter’s Heavitree Road Police Station on October 3.

The 32-year-old, who had worked as caretaker at St Thomas Church in Exeter, was taken to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital but failed to recover, dying a week later.

Mr Orchard had been arrested in Exeter city centre on suspicion of a public order offence.

He was handcuffed, legs bound and taken to a cell.

The family believed Thomas had died from a heart attack but two weeks after his death found out that he had been placed in an emergency restraint belt, designed to be used around the chest as a carry aid, and that it had been placed over Thomas’s face.

He lost consciousness in the cell half-an-hour later, eventually slipping into a coma.

His family believe that it was asphyxiation which may have caused the death of Thomas, a physically healthy, yet mentally ill, young man, due to the belt being placed over his face.

It was after Thomas had spent a week in an induced coma that the family had to make the heartbreaking decision to remove his life support.

Mr Orchard had suffered from schizophrenia.

Only last year, after a long fight, members of the Orchard family, who come from Crediton, were granted permission to watch CCTV footage from inside the custody suite at Heavitree Road Police Station.

The family expressed their horror at what they saw, saying they “effectively watched Thomas die”, adding: “It was horrific.”

It was not until after his post mortem examination two weeks later, where the family had an independent witness, that they discovered the actions of police officers may have been a contributory factor.

His death was being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which submitted a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The IPCC confirmed that Mr Orchard had suffered “serious head injuries” and also recommended that the police suspend those involved in the incident, but the force instead placed the individuals on restricted duties.

Associate Commissioner Tom Milsom said last year that he was aware how “distressing” the delay was for the family, adding: “I have kept them updated regularly about the progress of the investigation and met with them last week.

“Following receipt of our file of evidence, the CPS requested more information from the IPCC and further investigative work has been undertaken. The additional work carried out by the IPCC has been largely concluded.

“The work being conducted in conjunction with the Health and Safety Executive examining Devon and Cornwall Police’s historic use of restraint belts in custody remains outstanding but is nearing completion.”

In a letter to all Chief Constables in October last year the IPCC said: “The IPCC identified a risk in the way that an emergency restraint belt (ERB) was used on Mr Orchard as a spit hood and expressed concern that use of an ERB in this way posed a risk to individuals.”

Devon and Cornwall Police no longer uses emergency restraint belts as a spit hood or around the head.

Thomas’s brother, Jack, said last October: “To take two years to investigate a death is totally unacceptable.

“He died in such a horrific manner and having now seen the CCTV of his death, it will stay with all of us forever.”

In October 2014 the Orchard family encouraged those who attended a rally at Crediton Congregational Church, which was held to highlight the case of Thomas Orchard and other alleged injustices, to sign postcards encouraging Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, to assist in furthering the case.

Mr Stride told the “Courier” following the rally: "I have written to the Home Secretary to ask that she look into the time taking to investigate this matter and when she expects the investigation to be concluded.

“I will continue to press on this."

As a government minister, Mel was unable to ask Parliamentary Questions in the House and this is why he made a written request to press the point that way.

Family and friends of Mr Orchard took part in the Great West Run in Exeter last year in an attempt to raise £2,000 for a charity that has been supporting them in their campaign and raised more than £2,224.