Black British man with severe asthma dies in Brixton whilst under arrest by Met Police
Black British man with severe asthma dies in Brixton whilst under arrest by Met Police, who did not take him to hospital despite knowing ambulance was delayed
London: The inquest into the death of Ian Taylor, a 54 year-old Black British man from Brixton who died after suffering a cardiac arrest whilst being held by the Met Police, concluded yesterday.
A jury found that his death was caused by acute asthma and situational stress, alongside two underlying health conditions, with dehydration as a further contributing factor. They also found that he died in part because the police’s assessment of the risks to Mr Taylor were not adequate. The Coroner has announced he will be referring one of the officers involved to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for further investigation of his conduct.
Mr Taylor, who had previously been hospitalised with severe asthma, pleaded for help as he became very short of breath whilst under arrest on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, on 29 June 2019. An ambulance was called to the scene but was severely delayed. Despite repeatedly telling the all-white police officers that he could not breathe and was going to die, Mr Taylor was left lying on the street on one of the hottest days of the year without an inhaler, water or medical assistance.
Mr Taylor was eventually moved to a police car in an effort to cool him down, but after only a few minutes in the car he suffered a cardiac arrest. He died in hospital later that evening.
The inquest heard that although the police were told the ambulance service had suspended responses to all but the most urgent calls due to high levels of demand that day, the officers with Mr Taylor did not consider driving him to a hospital two streets away. The Met Police are allowed to drive detainees to hospital in exceptional circumstances, including where ambulances are severely delayed, and when it is believed that a person will die or seriously deteriorate if not taken to hospital immediately. However, the officers appeared not to believe that Mr Taylor was seriously unwell, telling him to “stop acting up” and to “grow up”, with one describing Mr Taylor’s pleas for help as “all a load of nonsense”.
Body worn video footage viewed at the inquest showed Mr Taylor on the floor, telling officers that his airways were closing up and that he needed his inhaler. Although the police looked for his inhaler, they were unable to find it. On at least three occasions when Mr Taylor told the officers that he could not breathe, officers can be heard on the body worn video footage responding “you can breathe because you are breathing”.
The court heard expert evidence that Mr Taylor’s respiratory rate – measured using the body worn video footage – was between 30 and 40 breaths per minute. Any respiratory rate of over 30 breaths per minute is considered to be a medical emergency. Although the police are trained to measure the respiratory rate and vital signs of people suffering from asthma in order to assess the severity of their condition, the officers responsible for monitoring Mr Taylor did not do this. One officer was captured on body worn video footage fetching water for herself from one of multiple plastic water bottles in a police car. When asked at the inquest why she did not offer any of the bottles to Mr Taylor, she stated that this water “belonged to other officers”.
Another police officer was recorded telling his sergeant that Mr Taylor was “playing the old poor me poor me card” and, six minutes before Mr Taylor collapsed, that he was “saying he’s got chest pains, he can’t breathe, blah blah blah, it’s all a load of nonsense but there we go”. When giving oral evidence at the inquest, this officer was asked several times if he had learned anything from the incident or would do things differently now. He was unable to specify a single action or learning point.
After about 25 minutes on the ground, Mr Taylor was eventually moved to a police car, where it was thought he would be cooler. It took the efforts of two police officers to walk him to the car, as by this point Mr Taylor could barely stand. When Mr Taylor had difficulty getting into the car, one officer can be heard laughing on the body worn video footage and another saying, “you are not helping yourself”.
Once in the car, Mr Taylor was told again by an officer that there were no ambulances available and to “stop acting up and grow up”. The court heard evidence from two medical experts that Mr Taylor’s asthma symptoms were likely to have been worsened by the additional stress and panic Mr Taylor would have felt from thinking that he was not believed and that no help was coming.
After only a few minutes in the car, Mr Taylor went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing completely. The officers pulled him out of the car and started performing CPR. Paramedics eventually took over but sadly Mr Taylor died in hospital later that evening.
The court heard that the London Ambulance Service were extremely busy at the time of the incident due to the hot weather that day, with temperatures reaching a high of 34C. This led to the service holding all calls except the most urgent, meaning an ambulance was not available to be dispatched to Mr Taylor when the police first requested one.
There was also confusion within the London Ambulance Service over the appropriate categorisation for the electronic alert sent by the police about Mr Taylor, and a lack of staff available to call the police back to get more information about his condition. Initially the alert was placed in category 3: the lowest priority band, which has a target attendance time of two hours. One witness from the London Ambulance Service testified that once the police had updated them that Mr Taylor was having “great difficulty breathing” and had a head injury, the alert should have been upgraded to category 2 (which has a target wait time of 18 minutes), however it remained at category 3.
Although at one point an ambulance was allocated to Mr Taylor, it was then diverted to a more urgent call. The London Ambulance Service have acknowledged that the police should have been told that an ambulance was no longer on its way.
In his concluding remarks, the Coroner said that he was surprised the officers did not automatically think about the distance to the hospital when assessing whether to take Mr Taylor there in the car. Regarding their monitoring of Mr Taylor’s respiratory problems, the Coroner said that for some of the officers in this case, it was not a matter of lack of training but a lack of application of their training. He also said that it was “dismaying” the Met Police had done nothing for the last three years to address the conduct of the officer who had dismissed Mr Taylor’s pleas for help as “nonsense”. The Coroner has now referred this officer to the IOPC for further investigation of his conduct.
Alice Hardy and Hayley Chapman of Hodge Jones & Allen acted for Mr Taylor’s partner Veronica Morrison, and his cousin Michael Cooper. They were represented at the inquest by Stephen Cragg QC of Doughty Street Chambers.
Hayley Chapman, Solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, representing Mr Taylor’s family said: “Ian Taylor fell seriously ill less than a mile from King’s College Hospital, yet even though he was in the back of a police car decisions were made that denied him the life-saving care he needed. This is yet another case where the Met Police have under-estimated the calls for help from a Black man in serious medical difficulty, with a tragic outcome.”
Mr Taylor’s Cousin, Michael Cooper, said: “Watching the video footage of Ian fighting for breath and desperately pleading for help, but being dismissed and even mocked by police officers, is utterly devastating. The police are trained to deal with situations like this, yet they did not do what anyone else would have done and drive him to a hospital that was three minutes away. No one in the UK should die from asthma and yet Ian did. How many more deaths will it take before the police take seriously a Black man who says he can’t breathe?”
Mr Taylor’s Aunt, Pauline Taylor, who was represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: “ ‘I need my inhaler…I can’t breathe…I’m dying.’ These were the last pleading words of my nephew. He died on the street begging for help not from just one, but seven police officers who casually dismissed his pleas and even went so far as to laugh and mock him. What more could he have said in those moments to solicit help and simple humane compassion from those who are sworn to serve and protect. What has been learnt? One officer said that he would do exactly the same given the same set of circumstances…May God help us! Our family is broken, our pain wakes us each morning and steals into our dreams at night, but in trying to heal we recognise that the disclosures relating to Ian’s untimely and cruel death can be used as a tool to bring about better training, effective practice, holistic awareness and challenge the ugly existence of unbiased racism.”