By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2816

Police watchdog will reinvestigate death of Darren Cumberbatch due to ‘material flaws’

The IOPC watchdog admitted the investigation into the death of Darren Cumberbatch was flawed five years later
Issue 2816
Image of Darren Cumberbatch who died in 2017 after being arrested agressively

Darren Cumberbatch died in 2017

The police watchdog will reinvestigate the death of a black man after finding “material flaws” in its original investigation.

Darren Cumberbatch, a 32 year-old black man, died in hospital on 19 July 2017 nine days after excessive use of force against him by Warwickshire cops. At the time he was experiencing a mental health crisis while living in a bail hotel in Nuneaton.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) admitted on Thursday that there were flaws in their investigation into Darren’s death and will reinvestigate key elements of the case.

A jury inquest in 2019 found the use of force that “may have been excessive and avoidable” contributed to his death.

Darren had been released from prison a few weeks prior to his death. On 10 July 2017 at 12.23am staff contacted police after concerns about his behaviour.

He had acute behavioural disorder (ABD) and took refuge in a toilet cubicle after police arrived. Without any risk assessment or planning, seven officers entered the cubicle.

In the next ten minutes Darren was struck with batons. Tasers were discharged three times, PAVA incapacitant spray used, and officers punched and stamped on him.

Darren was arrested and handcuffed while on the ground. He was further restrained in the prone position—chest down—outside the toilet and restrained again as he was taken to a police van. He was eventually taken to hospital, removed from the van and further restrained in the car park.

Despite being severely ill while in A&E, he remained in mechanical restraints for over an hour. His health continued to decline and he died nine days later. 

Carla Cumberbatch, sister of Darren, “welcomed” recognition that the investigation was flawed and it is in the public interest to reinvestigate.

But she added that the family is “galled” to have been forced to wait five years. “Pathology evidence shows the restraint and related physical exertion contributed to Darren’s death,” Carla said. “Therefore, the use of force requires careful scrutiny and analysis.

“We told the IOPC that their original investigation did not consider key issues including whether containing Darren or de-escalation could have been an option, justification for the use of force, and the veracity of claims that officers felt threatened by Darren. 

“There was also no consideration of what explanations from police were given at the time, compared to what was later said in interviews, and whether there are implications for the credibility of officers’ evidence.” 

Last year the IOPC included Darren’s death in a critical review of cases that involved Tasers, leading his family to call for reinvestigation of his case.

The IOPC has said that the reasonableness of the decision to enter the toilet was not sufficiently challenged in the original investigation. And the cops’ lack of communication, planning and leadership was not sufficiently explored.

The officers who used the force only provided statements, rather than being interviewed as subjects. It also recognised the failed to examine through a conduct investigation the events leading up to the incident in the toilet cubicle. 

But, despite the family’s wishes, the restraint on Darren in the hospital car park will not be reinvestigated. Carla added she is “disappointed” in this.

In 2019 the jury concluded, “The police continued to restrain Darren.

“This included restraining him in a prone period for a period, as well as leg restraints, physical force and rear handcuffing, some of the police restraint in the hospital car park may have been excessive and, at times, avoidable.’”

Carla said, “This restraint was prolonged despite officers becoming concerned about Darren’s breathing. Evidence about that emerged from the hospital security officer’s body worn video footage, which officers were cross examined about in the inquest, but which the IOPC failed to consider in their original investigation.”

Deborah Coles, director of charity Inquest, said, “Thorough investigation of deaths following police contact is vital for identifying failures and ensuring officers responsible are held to account.

“Not least when deaths are of significant public interest and raise broader concerns, including around the disproportionate use of police force against black men, and the impact of racism and discrimination in police decision making.”

And Darren’s case is not the only time the IOPC have failed to appropriately investigate officers. 

Kate Maynard from the family’s representing law firm Hickman and Rose added, “What concerns me is that the IOPC is making the same mistake again in their investigation of the death of Oladeji Omishore (Deji). The two officers who confronted Deji on Chelsea Bridge are still being treated as witnesses to the investigation rather than subjects.

“I fear we will be in the same place again in five years time with their evidence unchallenged, trying to make up for a flawed investigation. Meanwhile, evidence may be lost over time, and the bereaved family will feel the injustice.”

Maynard also pointed to the case of Sean Fitzgerald who was shot by police. It took two years for the IOPC to subject the shooter to a conduct investigation.

The IOPC will now make a decision on the “mode of investigation” for Darren’s case and assign a team who will also set a timeline for the investigation.

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