Watch­dog ‘pressed medics into in­ac­cu­rate state­ments’

Paramedics make claim at dis­ci­plinary hear­ing against four of­fi­cers over in­ci­dent left 20-year-old Ju­lian Cole paral­ysed

Gulf Times - - BRITAIN/IRELAND - By Damien Gayle

Two paramedics giv­ing ev­i­dence at a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing of po­lice of­fi­cers in­volved in an in­ci­dent in which a stu­dent ath­lete was paral­ysed have ac­cused in­ves­ti­ga­tors of putting them un­der pres­sure to give in­ac­cu­rate state­ments.

Caro­line Dil­ley and Paul Sim, of the East of Eng­land am­bu­lance ser­vice, are cred­ited with sav­ing the life of Ju­lian Cole at Greyfri­ars po­lice sta­tion, Bed­ford, af­ter the then-20-yearold’s neck was bro­ken and his spinal cord was in­jured in 2013.

An ear­lier hear­ing saw footage of Cole be­ing tack­led to the ground twice by po­lice and bounc­ers out­side El­e­ments night­club in Bed­ford.

The of­fi­cers in­volved say that Cole was con­scious and able to walk to the po­lice van, where he was ar­rested.

How­ever, wit­nesses say he was dragged there, un­con­scious and with his head hang­ing.

Cole suf­fered a car­diac ar­rest and stopped breath­ing.

He will spend the rest of his life in a per­sis­tent veg­e­ta­tive state.

On the rec­om­men­da­tion of the po­lice watch­dog, the In­de­pen­dent Of­fice of Po­lice Con­duct (IOPC), four of­fi­cers from Bed­ford­shire po­lice are fac­ing al­le­ga­tions amount­ing to gross mis­con­duct for al­legedly fail­ing to con­duct ad­e­quate wel­fare checks on Cole, ly­ing about the in­ci­dent to paramedics and in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and us­ing ex­ces­sive force.

Ev­i­dence from Sim and Dil­ley form an im­por­tant part of the case be­ing brought by the force’s pro­fes­sional stan­dards de­part­ment.

But ap­pear­ing in their uni­forms be­fore the hear­ing in Stevenage on Fri­day, both dis­tanced them­selves from el­e­ments of their writ­ten and signed wit­ness state­ments, and said that they could no longer re­li­ably re­mem­ber the in­ci­dent.

Both com­plained that a fol­low-up state­ment given al­most two years af­ter the in­ci­dent had been the re­sult of “lead­ing ques­tions” by in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Dil­ley also said she felt sub­jected to emo­tional black­mail by in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Com­plaints Com­mis­sion, the fore­run­ner of the IOPC.

She said they told her how Cole’s fam­ily needed “clo­sure” over the in­ci­dent.

“I didn’t re­ally feel com­fort­able [giv­ing the state­ment] be­cause of the time that had passed,” Dil­ley said.

She said that while an ini­tial state­ment she gave around three weeks af­ter the in­ci­dent had been her rec­ol­lec­tion of events, the sec­ond was the re­sult of an in­ter­view in which she was ques­tioned about spe­cific points.

“In my mind it felt quite lead­ing... I was un­sure, when I got it back, what came from my mem­ory and what was sug­gested to me,” she said.

Among the ev­i­dence in the case is a let­ter sent by Dil­ley’s em­ploy­ers to the IPCC out­lin­ing seven points in the state­ment that she felt needed clar­i­fi­ca­tion, most im­por­tant of which per­tained to a con­ver­sa­tion she had with PC Han­nah Ross, who is ac­cused of ly­ing to paramedics about Cole’s con­di­tion.

At is­sue was whether Ross told Dil­ley that Cole was re­moved from the van, or whether he got out him­self.

Giv­ing ev­i­dence, Sim also pro­duced a let­ter – pre­vi­ously undis­closed – writ­ten to his su­pe­ri­ors in which he said he felt that his sec­ond signed wit­ness state­ment “doesn’t give a true re­flec­tion of events”.

Asked why he had signed a state­ment that did not ac­cu­rately re­flect his mem­ory of the in­ci­dent, he ad­mit­ted: “I sup­pose be­ing at home I felt un­der pres­sure to get it over and done with.”

Sim even sug­gested that his first state­ment, given three weeks af­ter the in­ci­dent, may not have been ac­cu­rate.

In it he said he had spo­ken to a po­lice of­fi­cer to get Cole’s im­me­di­ate med­i­cal his­tory; but he said in the hear­ing that it was pos­si­ble that his rec­ol­lec­tion had in fact come from con­ver­sa­tions with his col­league about the in­ci­dent, rather than a con­ver­sa­tion with the of­fi­cer.

The ev­i­dence from the paramedics came af­ter a med­i­cal ex­pert sug­gested that Cole had suf­fered a bro­ken neck when po­lice tack­led him to the floor.

Pro­fes­sor Charles Davis, a con­sul­tant neu­ro­sur­geon, said that – on the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties – “it was pos­si­ble but un­likely” that Cole was able to get up and en­gage in a fur­ther strug­gle if his neck was bro­ken when he was first taken down by a bouncer from El­e­ments.

Em­pha­sis­ing that he could not make a judg­ment based on solely re­view­ing CCTV footage, Davis said: “I would say that the frac­ture is more likely to be an in­jury sus­tained later in sev­eral in­juries – as I un­der­stand it from the CCTV – than an ear­lier in­jury, be­cause the later in­juries, as de­scribed, in­volved move­ment of the neck.”

He told the hear­ing that Cole had suf­fered a “hang­man’s frac­ture” – a shat­tered ver­te­brae in his cer­vi­cal spine, the por­tion of the spinal col­umn ex­tend­ing from the base of the skull to the top of the chest, which had led to 90% dam­age to his spinal cord.

A pa­tient with such a frac­ture may not suf­fer im­me­di­ate dam­age to the spinal cord, and could in­deed walk into a hospi­tal, Davis said.

How­ever, he added, the pain was “likely to be very se­vere and the pa­tient [if] fully con­scious and not paral­ysed, might say: ‘I feel like my head’s fall­ing off and I’ve got to hold it and I dare not move it be­cause of the pain’”.

Ross, Sgt An­drew Withey, PC Nicholas Oates and PC San­jeev Kalyan deny all the ac­cu­sa­tions.

The hear­ings are ex­pected to con­tinue for an­other week.

This pic­ture cour­tesy of the Cole fam­ily shows Ju­lian, whose neck was bro­ken dur­ing the in­ci­dent in 2013.

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