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Police fail to carry lifesaving equipment two years after man who could have been saved hung himself

SOME police forces are failing to carry simple equipment that can save the lives of people who try to hang themselves, more than two years after they were urged to following the death of a man who an inquest found could have been saved.

John White, 43, from Tynewydd, South Wales, hanged himself from a bridge on October 20 2019, but was still alive when police attended the scene.

However, officers had difficulty cutting him down as they were not carrying ligature cutters, which could have quickly sliced through the material used.

He was transferred to the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, where he died three days later.

The Independent Office for Police Complaints (IOPC) investigated the actions of South Wales Police in connection with Mr White's death.

In June 2020 it gave a recommendation to all police forces that all response vehicles should "be equipped with a ligature cutter or similar."

The recommendation was accepted by Chief Superintendent Clare Evans on behalf of the force in July 2020.

However, an inquest into Mr White's death, which concluded last month<October>, heard that South Wales Police did not obtain any ligature cutters for two years until July this year.

South Wales Central Coroners' Court also heard that the force has agreed to give the cutters to all frontline officers as well, but at the time of the inquest, only 25 per cent of them had received them.

Jon's brother Paul, from Cardiff, said: "The two police officers who arrived first on the scene had zero training in dealing with mental health crisis. They were ill-equipped to free my brother from the situation he put himself in. They had to resort to knocking random doors to try and find a knife/cutting device.

"Considering suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, no police officers have training in this area as part of their initial training. "One of the biggest shocks was the fact that police officers randomly choose whether they carry their own knives/tools unofficially. So someone’s life depends on which officer turns up at that time. The third officer who arrived later had his own knife and was able to free my brother in seconds, but sadly, it was too late. "Due to the recommendation by the IOPC in July 2020, police officers should carry a specific kit for this situations. Of the three police at the inquest, one had received his a week before the inquest and the other two had not bothered to pick theirs up." "As a family we believe that if the attending officers had the correct equipment he would be here today. The specialist doctor stated during his witness statement during the inquest that it he was cut down within two to three minutes there was a possibility of a different outcome." The jury at the inquest found that "this omission to act to cut the ligature had possibly contributed to his death."

The outcome led Senior Corner Graeme Hughes to send a warning to the force to take urgent action.

In a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the force, he wrote: "The incomplete distribution to all frontline officers at this time meant that the scenario faced by the response officers attending upon Mr White was still patent and the opportunity to release a suspended individual currently dependent upon whether there had been distribution to the tasked response officers. That is the concern that I have and wish you to consider and address.

"In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken."

A South Wales Police spokesman said: "Our thoughts and condolences go to the family and friends of Mr White. Following a recommendation by the IOPC, the force is issuing ligature cutters and providing mandatory training to all frontline police officers and police community support officers."

He gave no assurance of when this would be in place.

The Sunday Express has discovered an apparent postcode lottery in respect of which forces have the life-saving equipment, which can also be used to cut through seatbelts.

Essex, Surrey and Bedfordshire police forces all said that officers routinely carried such equipment.

However, Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said: "We have received the recommendation... We don’t currently have them in Cambs vehicles but this is being reviewed."

Other forces did not respond.

An IOPC spokesman said: "We independently investigated South Wales Police handling of a tragic incident where a man hung himself from a bridge with police officers in attendance. We found the officers involved had acted with compassion, tried to establish a rapport with the man in crisis, and complied with their training in highly distressing circumstances.

"Sadly, officers had no means of saving the man once he dropped from the bridge as they had no suitable tool available to cut the rope in the time needed.

“We therefore made a recommendation, initially to the force and then to the police service nationally, that operational response vehicles should be equipped with suitable ligature cutters. We also recommended officers should have relevant training in their use. Our learning recommendation was accepted by South Wales Police and the service nationally. We were advised that a letter was sent to all chief constables in England and Wales encouraging them to provide the equipment at a local level. “We believe this remains an important recommendation with the potential to help save future lives. We are pleased to understand that some response officers have since received enhanced ligature cutters and are better equipped to prevent the same happening. "While we recognise the significant pressures and resource issues faced by police forces, we are though disappointed that the recommendation has not yet been fully implemented by South Wales Police. We are following the matter up further with the force and the police service at a national level.” A spokeswoman for the college of policing said: “The College of Policing received a letter from the Senior Coroner for South Wales Central on 26th October 2022 where recommendations are made that all response vehicles in South Wales Police have access to ligature cutters. It is the role of the College to share learning and best practice across policing so we will ensure that all police forces are aware of this case so they are able to take any action that may be necessary for their own area.”


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