A Metropolitan police officer has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct after an Inquest into the death of a Black man from Brixton concluded last Thursday (May 19) at Inner South London Coroners Court. The jury at the inquest found that Ian Taylor, 54, died from a heart attack caused by acute asthma and situational stress, alongside two underlying health conditions, with dehydration on the hottest day of the year also playing a role.
They also concluded that Ian died because the police who arrested him after he was involved in a fight did not correctly assess the risk he faced, telling him among other things to "grow up", "stop acting up", and dismissing his pleas for help as "a load of nonsense" in the hours before he died.
Ian, who had previously been hospitalised for severe asthma, had been arrested by police on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton on June 29 2019 when he began experiencing breathing difficulties and asking for help.
An ambulance was called but Ian was not made a priority and it was repeatedly delayed. In the meantime, despite repeatedly telling the all-white police officers who had arrested him that he could not breathe and was going to die, Ian was left lying on the street on one of the hottest days of the year without an inhaler, water or medical assistance.
Ian was eventually moved into a police car in an effort to cool him down, but just a few minutes later he suffered a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing entirely. Despite receiving CPR from paramedics he died in hospital later that same evening.
Ian’s Cousin, Michael Cooper, said: “Watching the video footage of Ian fighting for breath and desperately pleading for help, but being dismissed and even mocked by police officers, is utterly devastating. The police are trained to deal with situations like this, yet they did not do what anyone else would have done and drive him to a hospital that was three minutes away. No one in the UK should die from asthma and yet Ian did. How many more deaths will it take before the police take seriously a Black man who says he can’t breathe?”
Body worn video footage viewed at the inquest showed Ian on the floor, telling officers that his airways were closing up and that he needed his inhaler. Although the police looked for his inhaler, they were unable to find it. On at least three occasions when Ian told the officers that he could not breathe, officers can be heard on the body worn video footage responding “you can breathe because you are breathing”.
The inquest heard that although the police were told the ambulance service had suspended responses to all but the most urgent calls due to high levels of demand that day, the officers with Ian did not consider driving him to a hospital two streets away. The Met Police are allowed to drive detainees to hospital in exceptional circumstances, including where ambulances are severely delayed, and when it is believed that a person will die or seriously deteriorate if not taken to hospital immediately.
The court heard expert evidence that Ian’s respiratory rate – measured using the body worn video footage - was between 30 and 40 breaths per minute. Any respiratory rate of over 30 breaths per minute is considered to be a medical emergency.
Although the police are trained to measure the respiratory rate and vital signs of people suffering from asthma in order to assess the severity of their condition, the officers responsible for monitoring Ian did not do this. At one point an officer was captured on body worn video footage fetching water for herself from one of multiple plastic water bottles in a police car. When asked at the inquest why she did not offer any of the bottles to Ian, she stated that this water “belonged to other officers”.
Another police officer was recorded telling his sergeant that Ian was “playing the old poor me poor me card” and, six minutes before Ian collapsed, that he was “saying he’s got chest pains, he can’t breathe, blah blah blah, it’s all a load of nonsense but there we go”.
When giving oral evidence at the inquest, this officer was asked several times if he had learned anything from the incident or would do things differently now. He was unable to specify a single action or learning point.
After about 25 minutes on the ground, Ian was eventually moved to a police car, where it was thought he would be cooler. It took the efforts of two police officers to walk him to the car, as by this point Mr Taylor could barely stand. When Ian had difficulty getting into the car, one officer can be heard laughing on the body worn video footage and another saying, “you are not helping yourself”.
The court heard that the London Ambulance Service were extremely busy at the time of the incident due to the hot weather that day, with temperatures reaching a high of 34C. This led to the service holding all calls except the most urgent, meaning an ambulance was not available to be dispatched to Ian when the police first requested one.
There was also confusion within the London Ambulance Service over the appropriate categorisation for the electronic alert sent by the police about Ian, and a lack of staff available to call the police back to get more information about his condition. Initially the alert was placed in category three: the lowest priority band, which has a target attendance time of two hours.
One witness from the London Ambulance Service testified that once the police had updated them that Ian was having “great difficulty breathing” and had a head injury, the alert should have been upgraded to category two (which has a target wait time of 18 minutes), however it remained at category three.
In his concluding remarks, the Coroner, Senior Coroner Andrew Harris, said that he was surprised the officers did not automatically think about the distance to the hospital when assessing whether to take Ian there in the car. Regarding their monitoring of Ian’s respiratory problems, the Coroner said that for some of the officers in this case, it was not a matter of lack of training but a lack of application of their training.
He also said that it was “dismaying” the Met Police had done nothing for the last three years to address the conduct of the officer who had dismissed Ian’s pleas for help as “nonsense”. The Coroner has now referred this officer to the IOPC for further investigation of his conduct.
Following the inquest, Ian’s Aunt, Pauline Taylor, said: "‘I need my inhaler…I can’t breathe…I’m dying.’ These were the last pleading words of my nephew. He died on the street begging for help not from just one, but seven police officers who casually dismissed his pleas and even went so far as to laugh and mock him.
"What more could he have said in those moments to solicit help and simple humane compassion from those who are sworn to serve and protect. What has been learnt? One officer said that he would do exactly the same given the same set of circumstances…May God help us!
"Our family is broken, our pain wakes us each morning and steals into our dreams at night, but in trying to heal we recognise that the disclosures relating to Ian’s untimely and cruel death can be used as a tool to bring about better training, effective practice, holistic awareness and challenge the ugly existence of unbiased racism.”
When asked for comment Met Police Chief Superintendent Colin Wingrove, from the Central South Basic Command Unit, said: “We are aware of the conclusion of an inquest into the death of Ian Taylor, 54, who died in hospital in June 2019. Mr Taylor’s death was a tragedy and our thoughts and sympathies very much remain with his family and friends.
"The inquest found that Mr Taylor died of cardio-respiratory arrest, acute asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, situational stress, ischaemic heart disease and dehydration. The jury gave a narrative verdict and said that Mr Taylor died in part because of situational stress, which was caused by the earlier fight with members of the public followed by being arrested and handcuffed by officers on suspicion of grievous bodily harm.
“The arrest was necessary due to reports stating that Mr Taylor was involved in two separate incidents of serious violence that day. The jury also said Mr Taylor died in part because the officers’ dynamic risk assessment was not adequate to correctly assess Mr Taylor’s condition in the absence of advice from the London Ambulance Service’s specialist Met Dispatch Group, and no immediately available ambulance due to high demand.
“The officers on that day acted in good faith and they did what they thought was best for the welfare of Mr Taylor. However, we acknowledge the comments made by the Coroner and the jury and we will carefully consider their findings and the Preventing Future Deaths report when we receive it. We will also be speaking to our colleagues at the London Ambulance Service to ensure improved partnership working in the future.
“As in all cases where someone dies or suffers serious injury following police contact, we immediately informed the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards. A mandatory referral was made to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
"Following a thorough independent investigation, which also focused on why the police waited for the London Ambulance Service instead of taking him to hospital themselves, the IOPC concluded that there was no case to answer in respect of the conduct of any officer involved in this matter. No local learning was recommended.
“However, the Coroner has stated that he will be re-referring the Met to the IOPC in regards to comments made by one of the attending officers. We now await the IOPC’s decision of how the matter will be progressed. It would be inappropriate to comment further on that at this time, save to say that we will actively cooperate in the usual way.
“The Metropolitan Police Service is a learning organisation and we always strive to learn and improve. We continually review our policies in line with national guidance around restraint as well as how we assist those suffering from medical emergencies.”
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