Inquest Solicitors
Civil Liberties

‘My daughter should have been in hospital, not a cell’ – Inquest hears woman who died in custody may have survived had officers called for medical help

Debbie Padley

Iftikhar Manzoor

Team Leader & Senior Litigation Executive

5 min read time

The mother of a 43-year-old woman who died when locked in a Kent Police station cell has welcomed a jury’s conclusion that police officers’ failure to ensure she was medically assessed may have cost her life.

Mother-of-four Debbie Padley had been taken to Tonbridge Police Station’s custody suite following a domestic incident at her home on the evening of July 23, 2021. Seventeen hours later, she was found unresponsive in a cell and declared dead.

When taken into custody Ms Padley had initially complained of feeling unwell and was recorded as being ‘under the influence of alcohol or substances’ and ‘not fit to be interviewed’.

She was placed on Level 1 observations, despite police practice codes saying that, due to her level of intoxication, she should have been placed on Level 2 observations, which would have triggered cell visits every 30 mins.

Officers would also have had a duty to ‘rouse’ her and ask questions to assess her condition, something the custody suite officers failed to do.

An inquest into Ms Padley’s death heard how officers failed to carry out standard checks on her throughout the night which, had they been done, may have resulted in medical assistance being called for earlier.

Over the course of the night and following morning she was recorded as being asleep 15 times without ever being roused.  Shortly before 1pm on July 24, Ms Padley was discovered unresponsive by an officer who attended her cell and called for help.

Despite officers beginning CPR, defibrillation and calling an ambulance, she couldn’t be saved and was pronounced dead at 1.58pm.

Her cause of death was recorded as acute pyelonephritis – a serious kidney infection which had led to sepsis and multi-organ failure. The main symptoms include abdominal pain, fever and vomiting.

An inquest jury at Maidstone County Hall today concluded that Ms Padley’s death ‘may possibly have been prevented if she had been assessed by a medical professional whilst detained’.

In a critical narrative conclusion, the jury said her death was ‘probably contributed to by the absence of medical intervention at least five hours prior to her death’, adding that they considered ‘the absence of an in-person assessment by a nurse of healthcare professional a failure which was possibly causative in Ms Padley’s death.”

The jury also highlighted ‘inadequate communication of training and procedures’ at the Kent force, and the failure to complete an adequate risk assessment at the time of booking her into the custody suite, the failure to place her on level 2 observations, and the failure to adequately carry out level 1 checks.

‘She needed medical help’

Following the Article 2 inquest, at which CCTV footage was shown to the jury, Ms Padley’s mother Carole Butler, said, “The police officers showed a complete lack of care.

“Debbie was ill, she looked ill and if they had treated her as a person rather than another number and used their brains things could have been a lot different. They must have seen how unwell she was and that she needed medical help.  She should have been taken to hospital, not to a police cell. It cost my daughter her life.

“Our unwavering commitment to seeking the truth remains paramount and our primary objective throughout this process has been to secure accountability. Today we stand united, not solely for our interests, but as advocates for justice with a focus on seeking justice for Debbie and closure for her innocent children, who have endured unspeakable anguish.

“People need to know this can happen, they need to be aware of what happens when people are taken into custody and more importantly what should happen. I don’t feel she was treated with respect.

“Our collective aspiration is that by addressing the issues brought to light during this investigation, we can serve as catalysts for change, working diligently to prevent others from experiencing the same heart-wrenching circumstances in the future.

“Ultimately, we want the opportunity to understand, to heal and move forward with our lives.”

Custody guidelines were ignored

Iftikhar Manzoor, of Hudgell Solicitors, represents Mrs Butler and said: “Mrs Padley’s death was extremely tragic for her family and children and her case highlights the very serious issue of how people are cared for when in custody.

“As the jury has highlighted, had the police followed their own guidelines and shown Mrs Padley the care she deserved, she would likely have survived the infection with treatment.

“She was clearly ill, that in itself should have been indication that she should have been placed on a higher level of observation, but it seems her initial complaints of being in pain were overlooked, whereas they should have been thoroughly addressed. Those are the guidelines and they were ignored.

“Placing her on Level 1 observations reduced her chances of surviving. Had she been placed on Level 2 it is reasonable to expect that her complaints of pain would not only have been noted but fully assessed and acted upon.”

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