Police have moved to offer assurances that significant improvements have been made to custody services since the death of a man in a Fife cell.
Father-of-four James Bell, 31, was found unconscious in a cell in Dunfermline Police Station in June 2011 and later died.
An inquiry into his death found police officers had failed to check on him regularly enough and had falsified paperwork.
Mr Bell, a gardener who lived in Cowdenbeath, had been suffering from depression and had signed himself out of hospital following a methadone overdose.
He was taken in by police who found him walking on the M90 in the early hours of the morning.
Following the inquiry, police in Fife were criticised by Sheriff Abercrombie and a series of recommendations was made.
Police Scotland custody division commander Chief Superintendent Ciorstan Shearer said “significant improvements” had been made in Scotland’s custody services since Mr Bell’s death.
She said a new standard operating procedure and training regime had been introduced. A new cell visit system was also in place, she said, and custody officers were required to obtain distinct verbal responses from those in their care.
She said: “We have a duty of care for the people who are brought into custody.
“We have a very intensive scrutiny and governance regime in place.
“We take custody in Police Scotland incredibly seriously. We treat people in custody with respect, fairness and dignity.
“I can never say that people won’t die in custody and I’m afraid that can on occasion occur but we do our best on every occasion to try to avoid that.” In a report to Fife Council’s safer communities committee, Ms Shearer said that the standard operating procedure required every contact with a person in custody to be recorded in detail and requests, whether for water, extra blankets or care, to be acted upon immediately.
When Mr Bell was admitted, he was required to be visited and ‘roused’ at least every 30 minutes but it was found that at least one visit recorded had not actually been made.
Ms Shearer said that ‘rousing’ is no longer a phrase used. She said: “It’s really important we get a distinct verbal response. A grunt is not sufficient, moving a shoulder is not sufficient.
“It doesn’t matter if they tell us to ‘sod off’, that means they are alive and we write that down on the cell sheet.”