Evening Standard: Probe into death of patient ‘restrained’ by 7 Met officers

The original article can be read at: Evening Standard.com

Felix Allen and Peter Dominiczak 14.09.10

The police watchdog launched an investigation today into the death of a psychiatric patient after he was forcibly restrained by up to seven Met officers.

Olaseni Lewis, 23, believed to be from South Norwood, is thought to have slipped into a coma after his airways were restricted at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham.

He never regained consciousness and died four days later in intensive care at the Mayday hospital in Croydon.

Today the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed it is to investigate the man's contact with police at the Bethlem on August 31.

The incident has only just come to light following enquiries by the Evening Standard.

A post-mortem examination into the cause of the man's death is believed to have been inconclusive. Police sources said officers had been called to deal with a violent patient. He collapsed and officers gave first aid and attempted to revive him. No officers were suspended or placed on restricted duties as a result of the incident.

Mr Lewis is understood to have been detained under the Mental Health Act.

Police in Bromley were called by the hospital staff to help restrain him when he turned violent, a normal practice. However, nurses are said to have been “horrified” at the way the police acted when they arrived.

The Standard has been told several nurses who witnessed the incident later logged it as a “violent restraint”, meaning they thought inappropriate force was used.

A hospital source said: “Staff have been told not to say anything about what happened but everyone who saw it was very concerned. Because of the outrage in the hospital as to the way the police conducted themselves, there was a meeting [about the case].”

Scotland Yard said it could not comment because the case had been referred to the IPCC.

Hospital bosses have launched a separate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death.

A spokesman for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust said: “A patient receiving treatment at the Bethlem Royal Hospital was transferred to Croydon University Hospital on August 31 for urgent medical treatment and sadly passed away on the evening of Saturday September 4.

“We would like to extend our sincere condolences to the family of the deceased. The Trust is investigating the incident as a priority and is working closely with the police. It would not be appropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”

The IPCC said Mr Lewis had been a patient at the hospital for just a few hours when staff called police because a patient was causing a disturbance: “Police restrained Mr Lewis at the request of hospital staff. During the restraint Mr Lewis became passive and it then became apparent that he was seriously unwell.”

An ambulance was called and Mr Lewis was given first aid. Croydon University Hospital confirmed brain-stem death on September 3, and his life support was turned off the next day.

IPCC Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult this must be for this young man's family. The IPCC is looking into the police response to determine whether or not it was proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances.”

A post-mortem examination was inconclusive and toxicology tests are now being carried out.