Handcuffed woman dies of heart attack
Compiled from various sources
published: 4WardEver UK – August 2011
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
An inquest jury ruled that a catalogue of police failings led to the death of a Birmingham woman in custody. In 2009 the jury found Linda Burt, aged 49, died after being arrested for an alleged breach of the peace following an argument at her mother’s flat in Trident Close, Erdington.
A neighbour, Michelle Leek, reported that during her arrest two officers “dragged” Linda from her mother’s house. “I remember her shouting: ‘You’re hurting me’ and I thought they were being a bit rough. They were either side of her, dragging her by her wrists and arms, trying to get her into the police car.”
Linda was being taken to a police station in nearby Sutton Coldfield when she fell ill.
A post mortem revealed that she suffered from heart disease, which made her vulnerable to sudden cardiac arrest. Linda was arrested for breach of the peace at the flat she jointly owned with her 81-year-old mother, Beryl. She suffered a cardiac arrest as she was being taken away in a police car and later died at Good Hope Hospital.
Her death was the second in West Midlands Police custody during September 2003. Michael Powell, a 38-year-old factory worker, died after he was struck by a police car and collapsed in custody on 7th September.
Initially a two-year inquiry into Ms Burt’s death led the Crown Prosecution Service to suggest there was no evidence to bring any charges against anyone. Finally, in October 2009, a coroner’s court jury at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall concluded that a catalogue of police failings, combined with an undiagnosed heart condition, led to her death.
Paramedic Nicholas Goring was part of the first crew called to attend Miss Burt. He recalled a police officer had told him there had been “a scuffle en route”.
Ambulance technician Chris Bayliss was another member of the first crew. He asked a sergeant at the scene what caused the graze to Miss Burt’s head and puncture marks on her knuckle. “He didn’t respond and he shut the (ambulance) doors. I was a little bit surprised at the response,” he said.
Ambulance technician Paul Gardner was in the second ambulance sent to Miss Burt and was also surprised by the police response. He was concerned that her pupils were uneven – sometimes a sign of a head injury – and asked one sergeant if he knew what had caused the graze on Miss Burt’s forehead. “He said, very dismissively, No,” said Mr Gardner, who added that he was told by a second sergeant that Miss Burt had been bitten by a police dog.
The inquest heard that whilst in the police car Linda was kept in handcuffs as she struggled to breathe. A woman police constable told the inquest that moving Linda Burt forward to remove her handcuffs while she sat in the back of the police car would have ‘restricted her breathing further’.
In 2011 the family of Linda Burt received damages and costs from West Midlands Police following their seven-year battle for justice.
A police spokesman said: “Any death is a tragedy, and West Midlands Police regrets the fact that Linda Burt died whilst in our care. We have taken time to carefully consider the extensive narrative verdict of the jury to establish if lessons can be learned from Linda’s tragic death.”
West Midlands Police pay damages to family of Linda Burt
3 February 2011