Legal fight over man’s death in police custody at Royal London Hospital

Michael Sweeney

Michael Sweeney - Credit: submitted

The family of a man who died under police restraint in hospital are launching legal action against authorities they hold responsible.

Michael Sweeney, a 38-year-old scaffolder, died at the Royal London Hospital after being handcuffed by police more than two years ago.

Officers had been called to Bethnal Green’s Approach Tavern in April 2011, where Mr Sweeney had been in an “agitated” state and carrying a knife.

When they arrived, at around 7.34pm, he had reportedly put the knife down, and was diagnosed by officers as suffering from “excited delirium”.

But a 20 minute delay in the arrival of an ambulance meant he had to be taken to the Royal London by police – and he was not treated in the hospital for a further 25 minutes, despite banging his head and shouting in the back of the van.

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When Mr Sweeney, of Bromley-by-Bow, did receive treatment, officers held him face down and kept him in handcuffs while medical staff sedated him.

At an inquest ending at St Pancras Coroners’ Court last week, a verdict of accidental death was recorded, with a coroner highlighting the delays in treatment as having “the impact that resulted in the over exertion during Michael’s struggling and being restrained.”

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The completion of the inquest means his family can now lodge a civil claim through the courts as they finally contemplate closure.

“We are taking legal action. I am glad it’s come to an end after two-and-a-half years, but I think it’s quite disgraceful that a family have to wait so long for something like that to be dealt with,” said Mr Sweeney’s brother, David Bishop.

Speaking about the result of the inquest, he added: “There’s little things that I don’t think are fair, but I think the conclusion was as fair as it’s ever going to get – but I don’t think it was the whole truth.”

Lawyer Kate Maynard, of Hickman and Rose Solicitors, is representing Mr Sweeney’s family – and said they could pursue a claim under the Human Rights Act, or compensation for his suffering in the lead-up to his death.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman extended sympathy to Mr Sweeney’s family, but highlighted the resulted an investigation into the case by watchdog the IPCC.

“This incident was the subject of an independent investigation which found the restraint used was lawful and did not make any misconduct recommendations against any officer involved,” a Met statement said.

“The officers acted professionally and in accordance with their training as they dealt with a very difficult situation.”

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