Officers dropped a vulnerable and suicidal woman after arresting her and placing her in a police cell where she took her own life, an inquest jury has found.
Kelly Hartigan-Burns, 35, died in December 2016 after being treated with “reckless indifference”, campaigners say, by Blackburn police. She had been arrested after members of the public spotted her late at night driving in and out of traffic in her pajamas saying she wanted to die.
Her family fought for an inquest, saying they had failed at every level of Lancashire Police, from the control room to street intervention, her home and the police station .
A Preston Coroner’s Court jury agreed, finding that “if officers had been more compassionate, acted diligently, used common sense, followed advice and followed procedure from the time they found Kelly and throughout his detention there could have been a different outcome.”
The jury gave an open-ended conclusion, with an account detailing a litany of failures they believe contributed to his death.
In October 2021, a finding of gross misconduct was made against Jason Marsden, the guard sergeant involved in the Hartigan-Burns case, barring him from returning to work for the police.
After the arrest late on December 3, 2016, officers returned Hartigan-Burns to her partner, Cal, who was a mental health nurse. Cal warned police that she was a suicide risk, and police incident logs showed five separate mental health incidents involving Hartigan-Burns over the previous year.
But instead of using their powers in mental health cases to get Hartigan-Burns to safety, the police arrested her for common assault stemming from an argument she had with Cal that evening- the.
No consideration was made of her mental health history when she was placed in a cell without CCTV, and she was left to fend for herself when the duty sergeant left two hours earlier without monitoring her. Her colleagues also did not check until she was found unconscious in the cell and taken to hospital where she died.
June Hartigan, Kelly’s mother, said: ‘Over the past five years we have been tortured by what we knew must have happened, by all the wrong actions of the police and all the ways Kelly could have been saved. While it’s helpful to hear that the jury might see the same level of wrongdoing, the fact that it’s taken five years to reach this point means it’s kind of a hollow victory. .
Deborah Coles, director of campaign group Inquest, said: “Kelly was a woman in mental health crisis, in need of specialist care and support, not custody. The police treated her distress, vulnerability and suicide risk with reckless indifference.