Tributes to caretaker in police custody death case
FAMILY and friends of a church caretaker who died after being taken into police custody have described him as "much loved".
Thomas Orchard was arrested by police during a disturbance in the city but later died in hospital. His mother Alison Orchard, of Crediton, told the Echo the 32-year-old was a schizophrenic but was living semi-independently and working as a caretaker at St Thomas Church in Exeter.
His family also thanked staff at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital who cared for Mr Orchard in the intensive care unit prior to his death. His mother said: "Thomas had schizophrenia. With the help of the NHS, social services and the church, he was living semi-independently and working as a caretaker at St Thomas Church in Exeter and doing well. He was much loved by both his family and his church family.
"His family would like to formally thank the staff of the intensive care unit at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, who went beyond the call of duty and were amazing."
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Team vicar Rev Anne Dowdeswell told the Echo: "Thomas was a regular member of the congregation and recently he volunteered as a server during our Sunday services. He was employed part-time as a caretaker in the church hall. The whole congregation has been shocked to learn of his death and prayers have been said for him and his family in all our team churches. He was an important and valued member of our church family and we are all mourning the loss of a quiet and devout friend."
Police arrested Mr Orchard on suspicion of a public order offence following an incident at the junction of the High Street and Paris Street on Wednesday, October 3.
A woman who witnessed the incident, but asked not to be named, said: "I saw two men arguing outside Boots. It was very heated. I walked away and when
"I returned a little while later, police cars had turned up and things were happening opposite John Lewis.
"One of the men had been arrested and was up against a police car.
"I was telling a PCSO what I had seen. My back was turned but the next thing I knew the man who was arrested was on the floor."
Mr Orchard was taken to the RD&E when officers became concerned that he was not responding to them while in his cell.
He died in hospital on Wednesday, October 10, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission has said he suffered "serious head injuries".
It has launched an investigation into the incident and the police watchdog has offered its condolences to Mr Orchard's family and friends.
IPCC Commissioner Amerdeep Somal said: "We will arrange to meet with his family again when they are ready. We will, of course, keep them informed of the progress of our investigation.
"I want to thank the many members of the public who have already come forward in response to the IPCC witness appeal last week. We have already taken a large number of statements and viewed CCTV footage.
"We also really want to talk to an Asian man, aged about 30, who was carrying bags of coins and was involved in a confrontation with Mr Orchard.
"I want to reassure him that he is not in any trouble but may have vital information to assist our investigation."
Witnesses or anyone who has any information about the incident should contact the IPCC on 0800 096 9077.