Injured alcoholic ‘left to die’ in cell by police

Police Scotland were criticised for putting the man naked in a cell rather than taking him to hospital. Picture: John Devlin

Police Scotland were criticised for putting the man naked in a cell rather than taking him to hospital. Picture: John Devlin

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Police Scotland officers have been criticised by a sheriff over the death of an injured man who was placed in custody rather than being taken to hospital.

According to Sheriff Simon Collins QC, officers should have sought medical assistance for James Milne rather than dump him naked in a cell.

Police officers were heard on CCTV swearing about his intoxicated condition and, said the sheriff, failed to respect the man’s “basic human dignity”.

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner conducted an investigation into the affair but has not published her report, which has been sent to the Lord Advocate.

James Milne, a 54-year-old alcoholic, had been held by police after a drunken disturbance at the home he shared with his brother, Ewan Milne, at Kinloch Rannoch in Perth and Kinross in May 2013.

Ewan Milne was taken to hospital, but despite suffering from a head injury, brother James Milne was taken to Perth police station by PC Kevin Heafey and probationer Mark Donnan.

In a report following a fatal accident inquiry, Sheriff Collins said that the drunk man was left at the police station, sitting on the floor of the police van for a prolonged period. He urinated himself.

When officer Heafey tried to converse with his prisoner, he only received “some basic verbal recognition” from him.

Officer Heafey placed Mr Milne in an “ambu chair”, designed to help prisoners who are unable to walk, though his head was “lolling from side to side” and at one point he “almost fell out of the chair”.

He was stripped of his clothes and placed in a cell, naked, except for a blanket. An hour and fifteen minutes later, a check on his cell showed that he was blue in the face and emergency efforts were made to resuscitate him.

A week later, Mr Milne was dead, killed by a heart attack and heart disease brought on by chronic alcoholism.

Sheriff Collins concluded in his report: “The deceased’s general treatment by these officers and Sergeant Assenti at Perth police office was, however, a cause of concern to me.

“The general problem, is that the deceased was a person suffering from a serious medical condition, namely acute intoxication due to alcoholism, and should have been treated as such. Instead, he was treated as an offender who was drunk.

“Although in no way offensive or abusive to the officers, nor actively resisting them in the performance of their duties, he was spoken of, and to, in a disparaging and aggressive manner.”

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