A man who died from injuries sustained at a Lynn mental health unit asked police to tell his family he was “sorry” after the incident, an inquest has heard.
Christopher Higgins, 36, died in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, in July 2013, a week after sustaining the injury while in the care of the Fermoy unit.
Giving evidence at the Norwich Coroner’s Court this morning, PC Jim Haresign, of Lynn police, described how the injury happened after Mr Higgins had commented on the police van which was used to take him back to the unit from the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
He said: “He just came out with this comment, ‘That’s a nice van.’
“We just moved our heads and with that he managed to get himself up onto the barrier and turn round in mid-air to the point where he came vertically down on his head with an almost perfect dive.”
PC Haresign said Mr Higgins had appeared calm in the moments before the incident and continued to speak “lucidly” in the immediate aftermath.
He added: “He said, ‘Tell my family I’m sorry.’”
The incident happened when mental health staff had allowed Mr Higgins outside the unit to smoke, after he was brought back to a secure part of the unit from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s accident and emergency department.
PC Haresign admitted that he and his fellow police officers had been concerned about the decision, primarily because of the potential risk of escape.
But the court was also told that an important part of mental health professionals’ work was to place a degree of trust in patients, in order to make their co-operation with subsequent treatment easier.
PC Haresign said they did not want to risk escalating the situation by not allowing Mr Higgins to smoke.
He added: “We didn’t want to undermine the mental health staff and the rapport they were building with him.”
The inquest earlier heard the officers had initially been called to the accident and emergency department because of concerns that Mr Higgins had been trying to harm himself with scissors.
PC Haresign said Mr Higgins had been restrained before he and another Lynn officer, PC James Haslam, arrived at the hospital.
He said officers had also had to restrain Mr Higgins when he tried to pick at a dressing that doctors had placed on a self-inflicted neck wound.
But he added: “Apart from that, the whole time we were with him, he was calm.”
Questions were also raised about the use of a police van to take Mr Higgins back to the Fermoy unit rather than an ambulance.
PC Haslam confirmed officers had not detained Mr Higgins and that a police vehicle would not normally be used for such a journey.
But he said the primary concern had been to get Mr Higgins, who also agreed to travel in the van, to a place of safety as quickly as possible.
PC Haresign added: “It was a common sense solution to take him round.”
Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake is expected to sum up the evidence tomorrow morning, before the jury of six men and four women consider their verdict. The case continues.