Inquest criticises care of woman who killed herself in police cell

The jury heard how Martine Brandon was arrested in October 2014 and after 18 hours in police custody was found dead


An inquest jury has criticised failings in the care of a woman who killed herself in a police cell, saying that insufficient steps had been taken to protect her welfare.

Martine Brandon, 48, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, was arrested in October 2014 after she was spotted in the street waving a large kitchen knife. She was heard saying that an invisible demon and her sister were threatening to kill her.

Martine Brandon was left to die in a police cell

The family of Martine Brandon, above, said: ‘We hope that these critical conclusions made by the jury will ensure that change happens’.

Police officers arrested her for a criminal offence, rather than detain Brandon – who had no recorded history of mental illness – under the Mental Health Act.

She was taken to Southampton Central police station, and after 18 hours in police custody she was found dead in her cell, the inquest heard. The jury found that Brandon had been caused avoidable distress by having been left in her own faeces for six hours, and that communication with her by custody staff had been inadequate.

In distressing detail, the jury heard how welfare checks claimed to have been conducted on Brandon were shown not to have taken place. A check said to have been conducted at 6.11am recorded her breathing and asleep on the bench. Yet at this time Brandon was laying unresponsive on the floor of her cell, the inquest heard.

Her husband told the Guardian on Friday that he was devastated blunders had led to her death and said he did not want this to happen to anyone else. Brandon, a French national who moved to England 10 years ago, is the first person to have killed herself in a police cell in seven years.

The jury criticised a failure of communication between arresting officers and custody staff, as well as healthcare staff, concluding this influenced the risk assessments and care plans put into place.

Brandon’s husband, Barry, and her and son Jerome Coquerelle said in a statement following the eight-day inquest: “We know that nothing can bring Martine back. Our sole intention was to make sure that nobody else in the future would be treated the way that Martine was treated.”

“We hope that these critical conclusions made by the jury will ensure that change happens,” Martine’s family said.
Deborah Coles, the director of the charity Inquest, said the police had fabricated assessments on Martine and said she had been treated with inhumanity.

Coles said: “This is a tragic and shocking case. It is clear from the evidence that Martine was a highly vulnerable woman in serious mental health need. A police station is the last place she should have been taken to.

“Rather than criminalising a woman in mental-health distress she should have been taken to a hospital where she could have received specialist care. Instead she was left in appalling conditions alone in a cell.”

At the time of Brandon’s death in police custody, her husband said she was alone as he was was undergoing a foot operation in hospital, while her son was away at university.

Brandon had been facing a difficult time and had lost two family members in the month before her death. Four weeks before she killed herself, her mother had died. Just two weeks later, her brother-in-law died.

Last month the home secretary announced an independent review, conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini QC, into deaths in police custody.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.

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