Family left with questions over Bradford mother’s death in police cell

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THE family of a mother of three who died after being found collapsed in a police cell said yesterday they still have unanswered questions despite a five-day inquest into her death coming to a close.

Sharon Batey, 41, was in custody at Trafalgar House police station in Bradford on July 8, 2008 after being arrested at her home the previous day on allegations she was drunk in charge of a child after a drunken argument in the street when a man called her an unfit mother.

While in custody she was seen by four healthcare professionals, given diazepam and was taken to hospital where she was treated but then returned to a police cell.

A jury sitting at Bradford Magistrates’ Court returned an open verdict yesterday and said they could not come to a conclusion on what had caused her death.

The inquest heard that Mrs Batey, of Browning Street, Bradford was an alcoholic capable of drinking a bottle of vodka a day.

Medical experts had earlier given evidence that she may have died as a result of acute alcohol withdrawal but it was also suggested that she may have died from a heart problem caused by many years of alcohol use.

Prof Peter Vanezis said alcohol withdrawal syndrome was a well recognised risk factor for someone who had not taken alcohol for a number of hours.

Consultant Dr Jason Payne-James, asked to comment on the overall management of the case, told the inquest: “It’s possible that her alcohol withdrawal was inadequately treated.”

After the jury’s verdict, Mrs Batey’s family said it had been “emotionally exhausting” to listen to their loved one’s decline and death.

Mrs Batey’s sister Yvonne and widower Ian said they still felt that questions remained unanswered but were relieved that the jury had not put her death down to natural causes.

Yvonne Watson said she believed her sister would still be alive had she not been arrested that day.

“We are still in limbo,” Mr Batey added. “There isn’t any closure.”

Family lawyer Ruth Bundey said: “The absolute tragedy is that Sharon was about to go into residential detox. Possibly it would have been her last major bout of drinking before having tests the next day and hopefully being admitted to Lynfield Mount Hospital.

“She told people again and again, at arrest, in custody and in hospital that she was going into detox. They all recorded it but nobody thought to contact those in touch with her for that programme.”

A family statement said: “We will always believe her death was unnecessary and avoidable. We can’t emphasise enough that Sharon should never have been arrested. She didn’t commit any real crime. Her only real crime was her illness – alcoholism. Sharon was a lovely person.”

Following the inquest the Independent Police Complaints Commission released details of its investigation.

It identified some procedural errors in relation to omissions and errors on the custody records, said an IPCC spokesman.

These included a failure to record the findings from the health assessments on three of the four occasions.

“However it is evident none of these errors or omissions contributed in any way to Mrs. Batey’s death,” the IPCC said.

IPCC Commissioner Nicholas Long said: “This was a terribly sad case and my thoughts and sympathies are with Mrs Batey’s family.

“She evidently had a history of problems with alcohol abuse and this lead to incident on 7 July. The police quite rightly responded to the concerns raised and arrested her.

“It is evident that officers and staff at the custody suite recognised Mrs Batey’s vulnerability due to her intoxicated state and put in place the appropriate procedures.

“She was visited by healthcare professionals on four occasions and spent a period in hospital during her time in custody. From that, it is evident she had access to, and assessment from, people who were qualified to deliver the additional care she needed.

“Although our investigation identified some procedural errors in terms of recording relevant information on custody records this in no way contributed to Mrs Batey’s death.”