Schoolboy dies in police cell
compiled from various sources
published: Mikey Powell Campaign – 12 October 2004
News updates on this case listed at the foot of this item
An investigation was launched in December 1997 after a teenage schoolboy was found dead in a police cell. It is reported that David Parsons, aged 16, was taken into custody for questioning and left alone in the cell. The teenager was arrested on the afternoon of Christmas Day. Moments later David was found hanging in the cell at the police station in Cockett, Swansea, South Wales.
South Wales police later announced that his death would be investigated by the Police Complaints Authority, (now replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission). But Inquest, the pressure group that helps families of people who die in custody, had expressed deep concern about the case.
Inquest spokeswoman, Deborah Coles, said she was “deeply disturbed” that the teenager was left unsupervised in the police station cell. “It is in both the family’s and the public interest given the seriousness of this tragedy that there is a full, open and public inquiry into this death and not an investigation that relies on the police investigating the police,” she said. At the time, police were refusing to say why David was questioned, but it is alledged to have been related to a house break-in.
His parents, June and Tony Parsons were devastated by the death of their young son, and demanded questions to the circumstances surrounding his death. A family spokesman said: “We are still in a state of shock. It’s an awful tragedy to happen at Christmas. We are waiting to find out the full facts before we say anything more.”
In April 2001 a judge at Swansea County Court subsequently upheld a claim that South Wales Police were guilty of negligence in the death of the teenager in their custody.
The court heard that David had hanged himself with a cord from his anorak, which he had looped around a wash basin tap. Custody officers told the court that it was routine procedure to remove anything which can be used as a ligature from prisoners before they were put in the cells.
The judge ruled that they should have noticed the cord during the search and removed it from the teenager. He said that officers should also have foreseen that David was at particular risk of harming himself on two grounds – the fact that it was Christmastime and that he was a juvenile. South Wales Police were ordered to pay a total of £7,314 in bereavement damages to David’s parents.
After the hearing, David’s father Anthony Parsons said the police had failed in their duty to his son. He said “I’m relieved – just glad that the judgment has come out in our favour. “All we want is David back but that’s not what we’re going to get. “He did not mean to harm himself. I have lost all faith in the police.”
This case follows that of another death in custody in which police neglect at Cockett Station was found to be a factor. An Inquest into the previous death, held at Swansea’s Guildhall, found that neglect had contributed to the death of 22-year-old Jason Tristram who died from a drugs overdose on Christmas Day 1996.
Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, said at the time, “South Wales Police have clearly learnt a lot of lessons through this and other deaths in custody.”
As a result of new procedures put in place, it has been suggested that the overall number of suicides in police custody throughout the UK had fallen from 12 in 1999 to 3 in 2000. This statistic has been challenged by many penal reform groups, and more recently it was recorded that deaths in custody during 2002-2003 had climbed to all time highs.
Sir Alistair also said new guidelines have been issued to allow information to be released earlier to relatives of cell death victims. In a statement South Wales Police said they were considering the judgment carefully before deciding on any further action. “Deaths in custody are always of the greatest concern to the police service and we fully sympathise with David’s parents in the distress they have suffered as a result of his death,” said Assistant Chief Constable Paul Wood.
“All we want is David back but that’s not what we’re going to get.
He did not mean to harm himself. I have lost all faith in the police.”
Father, Tony Parsons