United Kingdom

Father died after 'excessive' neck restraint by Pontins security staff

A father would have survived if security staff at Pontins had not held him in a 'dangerous, excessive and inappropriate' neck restraint after he rowed with a guest, an inquest jury has found. 

Paul Reynolds, 38, was held in a prone position for around 11 minutes with a knee to his back after an initial neck hold, a hearing in Ipswich recorded.

Jurors, who listened to evidence during a three-week hearing, found that the restraint methods were not 'appropriate or proportionate' and that Mr Reynolds had not been physically violent.

He was restrained by security and other staff at Pontins in Pakefield near Lowestoft, Suffolk, until police arrived on the evening of February 14 2017.

Mr Reynolds was handcuffed and placed in a police van, then became unwell while on journey to the police investigation centre.

The van was stopped, an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital, where he died on February 16.

 Officers stopped the vehicle 'when they noticed Mr Reynolds being unwell' on the way to the police investigation centre. Pictured: Mr Reynolds and Carrie Bennett together

The inquest was previously told that Mr Reynolds's partner Carrie Bennett accosted a female guest at the holiday park whose daughter had allegedly been 'smacking' her son, leading to an altercation.

Jurors, who reached a lengthy narrative conclusion guided by 15 questions, found that Mr Reynolds would have lived if he had not been restrained.

They also found that there were missed opportunities to save Mr Reynolds, noting that if Pontins staff or police recognised that he was unresponsive, placed him in the recovery position and called an ambulance he would have survived.

His medical cause of death was recorded as 'complications arising from restraint of an intoxicated, obese individual in a prone position through compression of the neck and a potential obstruction of the upper airway'.

In their conclusion, jurors said: 'Mr Reynolds was not physically violent.

'The restraint used was dangerous, excessive and inappropriate and fell below the standards of the Pontins policy.'

They went on: 'The SIA (Security Industry Authority) badged security guard restrained Mr Reynolds with a neck hold. This restraint should only be used when in fear for your life.

'He was then held in a prone position with his hands behind his back for approximately 11 minutes with a knee to the left side of his back.'

They said his legs were held folded in a hold 'used by the police and prison service only as a last resort in specific extreme circumstances'.

They said: 'No attempt was made to reduce the force applied or to move him to a less risky position once staff had gained control of the situation'.

The restraint by the neck was described by the jury as a 'deliberate and unlawful act which contributed to (Mr Reynolds's) death'.

The jury recorded that Pontins staff 'exaggerated the severity of the initial altercation to police' and failed to pass on details of the initial neck restraint, but did tell officers about the ground restraint.

 Paul Reynolds (pictured with partner Carrie Bennett) died after he was restrained by security staff at Pontins Pakefield near Lowesoft, Suffolk

They recorded that police failed to reassess Mr Reynolds's condition when he was sat up, and they failed to reduce the risk to others present by turning off the music and clearing the ballroom.

Suffolk's area coroner Jacqueline Devonish said she would issue a Prevention of Future Deaths report to Pontins over concerns about staff training.

She said she would also issue reports to Suffolk Police and the National Police Chiefs Council over concerns that officers appeared to think 'pain pressure testing to determine whether a person is unconscious or just asleep is an assault rather than justifiable under some circumstances'.

Ms Devonish said she was also concerned that officers did not clear the ballroom and turn the music off.

She extended her 'deepest condolences' to the family of Mr Reynolds, of Colchester, Essex.

Speaking after the inquest, Ms Bennett said: 'After four years of anguish it is with huge relief and gratitude to this jury that the family and friends of Paul can finally see that the truth has come out of how he met his death.

'Paul was our big, loveable, larger than life gentle giant. Paul was a loving man and a doting father.

'The jury have concluded, as we felt all along, that the restraint was dangerous, excessive and inappropriate and fell below the standards expected of security staff. 

'Most importantly, the jury found that the restraint was dangerous, deliberate and an unlawful act which contributed to Paul’s death. Pontins staff then failed to adequately monitor Paul and declare it a medical emergency.

'The jury also found that, regrettably, Suffolk police officers failed to appropriately assess and monitor him when they arrived, and when they sat him up.

'The jury found that if Paul had not been restrained by the neck, and in the prone position, he would be alive with us today. His death was easily preventable. Paul should be with us here today.

'We are delighted that the Coroner is going to write to express the concerns we share with her to Pontins and Suffolk Police. 

'We demand urgent action to prevent any further unnecessary tragedies like this and to stop any other families experiencing what we have been, and continue, to go through.

Mr Reynold's partner Carrie Bennett told the inquest that a child had been hitting their son and she decided she was 'going to say something' as they left a communal area at the park on the evening of February 14. Pictured: Stock picture of Pontins Pakefield

'If the wholly unnecessary death of our lovely Paul can achieve anything by way of change, that would be at least some small consolation.

'I cannot thank enough all those who have helped me in our family’s fight for justice. Paul is and will always remain a massive part of my and my children’s lives and his memory will shine through.' 

Daniel Cooper, of Imran Khan and Partners Solicitors, who represented Ms Bennett, added: 'The significantly critical conclusions of this jury are reflective of the cruel and frightening ordeal Paul suffered. 

'He was failed by Pontins staff and Suffolk police officers. 

'The chokehold and manner of the restraint, for 12 minutes, by Pontins holiday park security staff was dangerous and inhumane, and caused his death.

'We hope that today's conclusion gives some relief to Paul’s family, who have been waiting for answers for over four years.

'We now look to the relevant authorities to consider further action against those involved in Paul’s death.' 

Selen Cavcav, senior caseworker at the charity Inquest, said that the conclusions highlighted the 'unlawful and dangerous restraint by security staff' and must lead to 'changes to ensure these failures do not happen again'.

'When Suffolk Police arrived, the situation could have been turned around, and yet officers relied on assumptions that Paul was feigning sleep, rather than respond to an unresponsive person as a medical emergency,' she added.

'We hope further rigorous investigations will now commence to ensure the individuals and systems which contributed to Paul's death will be held to account.'

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