Leon Briggs inquest: 'Failures and neglect' of police and ambulance contributed to death of Luton dad, jury finds

An inquest has today found that a series of failures by Bedfordshire Police and East of England Ambulance Service contributed to the death of Leon Briggs seven years ago.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 4:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 3:16 pm
Leon Briggs died on November 4, 2013, after being detained in police custody

Leon Briggs, from Luton, was 39 years old when he died on November 4, 2013, after he was restrained by Bedfordshire police officers.

Today's conclusion marks the latest step in his family's fight for answers.

The jury found, on the balance of probabilities, that there was a gross failure to provide Leon with basic medical attention and that there was a direct connection between this conduct and his death. They recorded a conclusion that his death was ‘contributed to by neglect’.

Leon was a father to two children and his family described him as “a loving, son, brother and father, caring and genuine”.

He had previously worked teaching computer skills to the elderly and as a lorry driver.

The jury criticised the restraint by Bedfordshire Police, which they found to be mostly while he was lying on his front, with an inappropriate use of force. They also criticised a failure to recognise Leon as a medical emergency, inadequate assessments and a failure to monitor him.

The jury also found a number of serious failings by the East of England Ambulance Service.

Margaret Briggs, Leon's mother, said: “Today marks a milestone in our fight for justice for Leon. After seven long years of waiting, those present during Leon's restraint have finally been made to explain their actions.

“Over our long fight for the truth there has been no remorse shown by the police – in fact they have tried to disrupt the investigation at every turn, determined to cover their own backs. To this day, those police officers still have their jobs and livelihoods and no one has been punished for Leon’s death. There has been no accountability or justice. The CPS must now reconsider bringing prosecutions.

“We think that Leon’s race was a factor in the way he was treated by the police. He was treated as someone who posed a threat rather than someone in need of help.

“I wouldn’t wish the pain we have suffered on anyone.”

On the day of his death, Leon had been seen moving erratically in the street, with numerous witnesses describing that he appeared to have mental ill health and seemed ‘confused’ but not aggressive.

Bedfordshire Police initially arrived on the scene after a member of the public called 999, concerned for Leon's welfare. The caller asked for an ambulance as well as police as Leon “needed calming down”.

The police control room, who could see Leon on CCTV, logged this as ‘an aggressive male’. Armed police officers arrived on scene and Leon was detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. He was quickly brought to the ground and restrained in the street by three officers.

Leon was held face down for over 13 minutes, and in handcuffs and leg restraints for 25 minutes. Staff from the East of England Ambulance Service arrived on scene, but did not assess or communicate with Leon.

Leon was then taken in a police van to Luton Police Station, rather than the local hospital - despite it being closer in distance.

The custody team had been alerted that a ‘violent male’ was being brought in.

Unable to walk, he was carried into a cell where he was restrained again then left unconscious for 6 minutes and 15 seconds, before becoming silent and unresponsive. At this point Leon was taken by an ambulance to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Throughout the nine-week inquest, held by the Senior Coroner for Bedfordshire, Emma Whitting, jurors heard about a number of failings, which they concluded led to Leon's death.

The inquest heard his primary cause of death was "amphetamine intoxication in association with prone restraint and prolonged struggling”, with a secondary cause of coronary heart disease.

A medical expert told the inquest Leon would have survived, beyond reasonable doubt, if he had been taken to hospital rather than police custody.

The credibility of the officers’ accounts was called into question after the breach of a non-conferral order, initial statements from the officers were nearly identical when given.

At the conclusion of the inquest the coroner praised the family for the ‘complete understanding and courtesy’ they had shown throughout the process. The coroner said that Leon deserved to get the full services owed to him by the police and ambulance service. She said Leon had been “so very let down”.

Beds Police Deputy Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst said: “The family and friends of Leon Briggs have had to wait far too long to hear all the facts surrounding his death and our thoughts are of course with them at this very difficult time.

“The jury has today identified a number of significant failings by the police which contributed to the death of Mr Briggs and for this we are truly sorry.

"This inquest focused on a period of 36 minutes as we responded to public concerns for Mr Briggs who was suffering a drug-induced psychosis triggered by amphetamine levels described by one expert as being ‘off the scale’.

“Unbeknown to officers he also had a serious underlying heart condition. There is no easy way of managing such a situation."