THE mother of a former Bolton woman who died following failings by a custody sergeant has said a "stray dog" would have received better care.

Jason Marsden, an ex-custody sergeant at Blackburn's Greenbank police station, was on duty when Kelly Hartigan-Burns, 35, was arrested and he was responsible for assessing her.

The former Canon Slade student had mental health problems and had tried to take her own life earlier that night, before being arrested in Darwen on a separate assault matter on her partner, a police disciplinary hearing was told.

But Mr Marsden ‘lost control’ and aggravated the situation , the misconduct panel ruled, diminishing his authority and damaging his ability to do his job. 

He also breached a duty of respect and courtesy to the detainee in the abrupt way he spoke to her and did not explain the detention procedures, the hearing was told.

Ms Hartigan-Burns was later found in an unresponsive condition inside her custody cell and was pronounced dead at the Royal Blackburn Hospital.

A misconduct hearing for Mr Marsden, who no longer works for Lancashire Police, found his actions amounted to 'gross misconduct'.

Speaking outside the disciplinary hearing, Kelly’s mother, June Hartigan, from Tonge Moor, said: “Kelly was a victim of negligence and total ignorance. A stray dog would have got more attention.

“This hearing is not going to bring back my daughter but hopefully this will help other families. It has gone back and forth between different authorities including the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) and IOPC  (Independent Office for Police Conduct) and the length of time taken to get to this hearing has been horrendous.”

She understands a coroner’s inquest to establish the cause of Kelly’s death will be held in Blackburn in February 2022. The cause of death was not discussed in any detail at the police disciplinary hearing.

The disciplinary panel found Mr Marsden failed to properly assess the risks she faced despite suicide warnings on police records and Ms Hartigan-Burns being intoxicated and having prescription medication for mental health problems among her possessions.

Mr Marsden also failed to contact a medical expert for professional opinion soon after she had been detained.  He also deliberately bypassed questions on a police computer system designed to fully assess risks, welfare and observation levels needed for each detainee.

Hearing chairman Paul Forster said the panel rejected the suggestion Mr Marsden had been frustrated or confused by the computer system because it had been in operation for months during 2016.

The panel also dismissed the suggestion that he had asked ‘linear’ narrow questions because of the computer system rather than more human, conversational questions with the detainee. He was an experienced officer with many years service.

Mr Forster added: “He failed to ask the full questions as required and missed the opportunity to get relevant information about circumstances before and during the arrest.

“Sgt Marsden engaged with Kelly for four minutes and 17 seconds. He said she was aggressive and intoxicated. Police say the length of time spent with a detainee on arrival can vary and can sometimes be just a few seconds, depending on their behaviour.  So looking at the length of time in booking-in is too crude a measurement.

“A cell with CCTV was available but these are matters of judgement and different sergeants can come to different reasonable conclusions. But if an officer has any suspicion the person has suicide risks then the detainee should be treated as such.

“Even though there was clear evidence that Kelly had mental health issues, Sgt Marsden made a decision based on her intoxication. He should also have got appropriate professional medical opinion as soon as possible but he did not do so.”

Mr Marsden was also critical of the amount of detail the officer had entered into the computer log and his handover briefing to colleagues, adding: "Leaving his shift early may have been a factor. ”

The former sergeant did not attend the hearing. His lawyer, Sarah Barlow, said he had shown remorse for the events and his health had suffered.

She said his conduct on the night had not been thought-through or thought-out. He had a 27-year career with the police with a commendation and no previous disciplinary issues. This was an isolated incident.

Mr Marsden retired from Lancashire Constabulary in August 2021, a few weeks after being notified of the disciplinary proceedings.

The panel said its sanctions were limited because he was no longer a serving officer. It recommend his name be added to a list of banned officers who cannot work for the police again. If he had still been a serving officer, instant dismissal without notice would be the appropriate sanction, it said.

The panel emphasised the primary need to safeguard the welfare of detainees inside police stations, to protect high standards and reputations of police forces and to maintain public trust in the police.

Later Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, which supported Ms Hartigan-Burns' family, added: “It is clear that Kelly was a woman in crisis, in need of care and specialist support – not custody. This indifference and neglect cost Kelly her life.

"While this critical finding is welcome, it has taken far too long to get to this point. The officer was able to retire early, weeks before this hearing, and there are no sanctions for him. Yet again police officers are able to evade responsibility and accountability for deaths."