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Family tributes to custody death man

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

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MORE than 100 people gathered to pay their respects to a city church caretaker who died after being arrested and taken into police custody.

Family and friends of Thomas Orchard filled St Thomas Church in Cowick Street, where he worked and was a congregation member, for a memorial service this week.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the circumstances surrounding the 32-year-old's death. He was arrested following a disturbance in the city last month and taken into police custody but died in hospital a week later.

Reverend Anne Dowdeswell, leading the service, said the day was one for remembering and celebrating Thomas's life.

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She told the packed congregation the "truths" surrounding his death would come out "another day".

Moving tributes were read out by Thomas's father and others who knew him.

The congregation heard Thomas described as a "vulnerable" young man who had suffered with mental health issues but had found friends at the church and was "doing well".

Memories from Thomas's mum Alison were also read out. She described him as an "excellent footballer and athlete" and an "avid" Manchester United fan, who travelled the county playing for local teams up until his mid teens.

The church caretaker, who was a valued server at St Thomas Church, moved to Crediton with his family when he was 17. But his family say his life took a downward turn and he began a "journey into drugs and alcohol".

In her tribute, his mother Alison described his mental health issues as "harrowing".

At 19, he moved out of the family home and was homeless for a long period.

The congregation was told how Thomas spent many years in and out of hospital after being diagnosed with schizophrenia.

But after a period of time at residential care home Seabrook House, in Topsham Road, Thomas began attending church at St Thomas and "acquired an extra family".

Reverend Georgina Vye said Thomas was an "increasingly important part of the community" and had a "quiet humour". She described him as a man of few words who was "sincere and hard-working".

Thomas's mother said later: "It was a beautiful and fitting service – he was a gentle and loving man. I'd like to thank Anne and Georgina for a lovely service."

Rev Dowdeswell said it was important to show "all aspects" of Thomas in the memorial.

"It was important to have a chance to share our memories of him," she said.

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.

He was taken to the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital when officers became concerned that he was not responding to them while in his cell. He later died in hospital on Wednesday, October 10, and the IPCC said he suffered "serious head injuries".

Investigators looking into the circumstances surrounding Mr Orchard's death were understood to be meeting this week to discuss developments in the case. The investigation could take up to six months.

An investigation into the death of a man in Torquay police custody is continuing.

The IPCC is investigating the circumstances of the death of Michael Lloyd on August 5 at Torquay police station.

Mr Lloyd was arrested at an address in Paignton at around 3.30pm on August 4 and was taken into custody.

A spokesman for the IPCC said: "Following a risk assessment, 66-year-old Mr Lloyd was taken to Torbay Hospital for treatment for an existing heart condition and returned to custody. At about 8am on August 5 a healthcare professional and a detention officer entered his cell and found Mr Lloyd dead. The force referred this to the IPCC and an independent investigation will be carried out."

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