Death of Scots man in police custody 'might have been avoided'

Warren Fenty
Warren Fenty -Credit:Fenty Family

A sheriff has ruled that the death of a young man in police custody could have been avoided.

Warren Fenty was 20 when he died from a drug overdose at Kittybrewster Police Station in Aberdeen in 2014. He had been arrested after discharging himself from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, against medical advice, and was being held in the station's custody suite.

The fatal accident inquiry into his death, which was the longest ever to take place in Scotland, was concluded on Friday. Derek Pyle, the sheriff principal of Grampian, Highlands and Islands, said that custody officers should have conducted cell checks of Mr Fenty in accordance with the then standard operating procedure.

He said in a written ruling that was an opportunity which might have led to Mr Fenty’s readmission into hospital which "might have avoided his death".

Sheriff Principal Pyle said: "I have concluded that no one individual can be held responsible. Indeed, all those involved, whether medical practitioners or police officers, were doing their best in what proved to be quite exceptional circumstances.

Kittybrewster Police Station
Kittybrewster Police Station

"Nevertheless, I do identify certain institutional failures by Police Scotland which, while not on the evidence being the cause of death or indeed materially contributing to it, resulted in missed opportunities to have Mr Fenty returned to hospital where it is likely, although by no means certain, that he would have survived."

Sheriff Principal Pyle took over the inquiry earlier this year after the original sheriff could no longer continue due to "personal health reasons".

He added: "The investigation of Mr Fenty’s death has taken far too long. It is now 10 years since the event."

Sheriff Principal Pyle said the reasons for that included "the actings of the Crown, and the failure of the presiding sheriff to make the determination, which resulted in my having to take the unprecedented step of taking over the inquiry".

Mr Fenty's mother, Sharon Fenty, has been critical of the 10-year wait for answers.

After the ruling was published, she told the BBC: "It's been a nightmare. I just had to keep on going for Warren's sake. I'm never going to be the Sharon I used to be.

"I am angry. Why has it taken to so long? That was my son. I miss him so much, he should be here."

Chief Superintendent Pat Campbell, Head of Police Scotland’s Criminal Justice Services Division, said: “Following the death of 20-year-old Warren Fenty within Kittybrewster Custody Centre in June 2014, an investigation was conducted by PIRC, which Police Scotland fully co-operated with.

“Their investigation resulted in a number of observations being made. These focussed on staff training, improvements to record keeping and enhancing communication with medical staff when a prisoner is brought into custody from hospital.

“All recommendations were subsequently implemented and rolled out nationally and have been in place for a number of years now.

“We note the findings of the Fatal Accident Inquiry that has since taken place and once again, we wish to offer our deepest condolences to the family of Warren Fenty.”

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