The inquest into the death of Leighton Dickens was heard before a jury and HM Assistant Coroner, Mr David Regan, at the South Wales Central Coroner’s Court in Pontypridd, from 18 – 29 September.
On 28 September 2023, a jury unanimously concluded that Leighton died as a result of a missed opportunity by South Wales police to detain him under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Leighton ligatured in his home on 14 October 2020 just hours after his partner, Ms Williams, frantically flagged down officers of South Wales police for concerns about his mental health.
When the two officers approached, they noticed that Leighton was in nothing but a dressing gown with no shoes on and that he had 20 – 25 self-harm cuts on his left thigh. Leighton’s partner told them that she was taking him to the hospital but that she had to stop because he was pulling at the steering wheel and the handbrake. Ms Williams had originally been trying to take him back to his property in the middle of the night when his volatile behaviour had caused her to become concerned for her own safety and that of her children. The officers offered to take Leighton in the police van and on the way observed that he was curled up in the foetal position on the floor repeating “I’m sorry.”
Leighton, Ms Williams, and the officers briefly made it in to A&E before Leighton’s behaviour drastically changed; he became argumentative, left the entrance of A&E, and filmed the officers repeatedly asking if he was under arrest. One of the junior officers called their supervisor, PS Harrison, for advice following which officers told Ms Williams that she was a responsible adult, they had brought Leighton to a place of safety and that there was nothing more they could do.
In her evidence to the jury, Ms Williams said that one of the officers told her that Leighton simply needed to “sleep it off” and suggested he “walk home”.
Ms Williams felt that she had no choice but to drive him back to his flat but did not feel safe to go in with him. Still fearful for his, she called the police again, distraught, and said she was “leaving him there not knowing if the next person that walks in there is going to find him dead.” By the time officers returned and forced entry into Leighton’s flat, it was too late – her worst fear had come true.
They jury found Leighton died by hanging in circumstances where intention could not be ascertained. In a short narrative the jury added that there was a missed opportunity on the part of the police to not detain until he was assessed by a mental health professional.
The Assistant Coroner will be issuing a Prevention of Future Deaths report due to his concern that South Wales police officers are now less well supported following the removal of the mental health triage line in April 2023 through which officers could seek advice from a mental health nurse between the hours of 9am – 1am. The Coroner’s PFD report will be copied to three separate health boards (Cwf Taf, Cardiff and Vale, Swansea) and the Welsh government. South Wales police will have 56 days to provide their response.
Leighton’s partner, Rhiannon Williams, said:
“At around 5am on 14 October 2020, I called the police for help. I was desperately worried about Leighton and his mental health. I was afraid for his safety and mine I didn’t know what else to do. For almost 3 years I have been reliving the worst night of my life and the complete and utter helplessness I felt when the police left us outside A&E. I put my trust and faith in the police that night but they let us down.
It is hard to hear that a unanimous jury agreed that this was a missed opportunity by the police to detain him so that he could get the help he needed. Everything that I did on that night and that I have done since has been for Leighton.
He was the brightest of stars, the love of my life, and I miss him every day.”
Emma Gilbert, Solicitor for Ms Williams, said:
“It is painful to imagine the horror that Rhiannon went through that night and every day since. She made a desperate cry for help for the safety of her and her loved one only to be abandoned when she and Leighton needed it most.
When they took the stand, it became clear that the officers’ had an incorrect understanding of their power under the Mental Health Act, including the supervising officer PS Thomas Harrison.
More needs to be done to ensure that officers are trained to recognise mental health crises and offer a compassionate response with a proper understanding of their powers. ”
Jordan Ferdinand-Sargeant, caseworker at INQUEST said:
“Rhiannon had no choice to call the police for help when her partner was in mental health crisis. Once again, she and Leighton’s experiences demonstrate that police are too often unable to support people with mental ill health to access the care they need.
Public policy and practice must urgently move away from police as first responders to people in mental health crisis. We need alternatives which centre a healthcare led response in the community.”
Rhiannon Williams, the partner of Leighton Dickens, was represented by Emma Gilbert and Daniel Lemberger Cooper of Imran Khan and Partners Solicitors and Jake Taylor of Doughty Street Chambers.
NOTE TO EDITORS
Please contact Ms Emma Gilbert at 020 7404 3004 or EmmaG@ikpsolicitors.com for further details.
A place of safety has a specific meaning under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It was confirmed during the course of the evidence heard at the inquest that the A&E department at University Hospital of Wales is not a designated place of safety in South Wales police policy under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. In any event, outside A&E (where the officers and Leighton were at the time) is not a place of safety within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983.