Officers made active efforts to save some fish while a man was suffocating in a police restraint, it has been claimed.
The scenario was put forward by David Bentley QC during an inquest into the death of Colin Holt, a mentally ill man who died after being restrained at his flat in Goudhurst Road, Twydall.
Police had been asked to find 52-year-old Mr Holt after he fled from a psychiatric ward at Medway hospital in 2010, but when they arrived at his flat he began acting strangely, claiming “that’s not me, I’m Alfred Marx”, before becoming agitated and aggressive.
The inquest, which resumes today, heard how a struggle ensued in which PC Nicholas Reeves was thrown against a fish tank, and ended with Mr Holt being restrained face and chest down – but with his face to one side – on the seat of an armchair, by PC Reeves and his colleague PC Maurice Leigh.
When police back-up arrived, PC Leigh was left in control of Mr Holt, while the injured PC Reeves left to get treatment.
Mr Holt later died of positional asphyxia, which occurs when a person’s position prevents them from breathing while being detained, but PC Leigh insisted Mr Holt remained conscious all the time he was restraining him.
His account was questioned by Mr Bentley, who represents Mr Holt’s family, and suggested he was losing consciousness. “He’s out of breath, he’s breathing heavily, he’s becoming quieter and more tranquil,” said Mr Bentley.
“Looking back at what was going on, this man must have been suffocating at the time you were monitoring him.”
PC Leigh insisted Mr Holt was conscious when he left the scene: “When I left the premises he was alive, his eyes were open.”
Mr Bentley threw further doubt on PC Leigh’s account by recalling how back-up officers PC Glen Rickersey and PC Lynda Edwicker had arrived and both recalled PC Leigh saying Mr Holt was “out cold”.
Mr Bentley said the officers had been worried that water from the fish tank could cause an electrical fault and quoted a statement from PC Edwicker, continuing: “I heard PC Rickersey say ‘Colin, tell us where the electricity box is’. I heard PC Leigh say ‘don’t waste your breath Glen, he’s out cold.’”
PC Leigh refuted that too, saying: “I did not say it. I did not say those comments.”
The court also heard PC Edwicker had set about saving the fish, which were on the floor, and PC Leigh recalled how he heard her say: ‘I’ve saved the fish, I’ve saved the fish.’
Mr Bentley contrasted her actions with those of PC Leigh.
“There were some quite active efforts of people trying to save the lives of some fish but in the meantime there were no efforts to tend to Mr Holt. He was fine,” he said, in something of a cutting tone.
“Others were looking after the fish, you were looking after Mr Holt.”
He went on to suggest Mr Holt was indeed “out cold” at that point, to which PC Leigh said: “Mr Holt was never out cold.”
PC Leigh and PC Neil Bowdery were cleared of misconduct in public office at a trial at Maidstone Crown Court in May 2013.
The inquest – being held at Archbishop’s Palace, Maidstone, before a jury – is expected to last up to four weeks.