Reasonable Restraint Means No Criminal Charges


Charges against a man who caused the death of a thief by kneeling on his chest while waiting for the police to arrive have been dropped, following a coroner’s verdict of “accidental death”
The man, Brian Machin, held Bernard Doherty after the would-be thief tried to steal a Mitsubishi Shogun car belonging to Mr Machin’s cousin William Jones in January 2009. Mr Doherty had snatched Mr Jones’s keys before jumping into the car and attempting to drive it off. Mr Machin came to the aid of his cousin who was struggling to restrain the thief.
Both men then pulled Mr Doherty out of the car and, as Mr Doherty tried to escape by crawling under the car, Mr Machin held him down by kneeling across Mr Doherty’s chest and arm, while Mr Jones lay across his legs. By the time police arrived, Mr Doherty was unconscious and later died from asphyxia. Shortly after, both men were arrested over the death.
At the inquest into the death of Mr Doherty, both men said that they were not trying to hurt the deceased, but were merely holding him until the police arrived. They said that they had told Mr Doherty to “give it up” as he could not get away, and when he went quiet, this is what they thought he had done. Only after the police arrived, was it clear that Mr Doherty had stopped breathing.
Coroner Ian Smith said that Mr Machin and Mr Jones were entitled to make a citizen's arrest because Mr Doherty was trying to steal the Shogun. The Coroner said that Mr Doherty was in the act of stealing Mr Jones’s car while under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs and was therefore guilty of an arrestable offence. This, he said, gave Mr Machin and Mr Jones the right to effect a citizen's arrest and they were entitled to use reasonable force.
A post-mortem examination confirmed that Mr Doherty had died from crush asphyxia, but found no other injuries to his body. The Coroner said that he was satisfied the men had not used excessive force to restrain Mr Doherty. He also noted that neither Mr Jones nor Mr Machin were trained in restraint techniques. He said that Mr Doherty put himself, Mr Jones and Mr Machin in a dangerous predicament and died as a result. “No crime was committed by Mr Jones or Mr Machin," he said.

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