Police sergeant refuses to accept responsibility over death following police custody

Screenshot 2021-10-07 at 17.15.20

A police misconduct panel is expected to announce its findings on Monday 11th October, 2021 following a hearing lasting eight sitting days at Leyland Police Station.

Witness evidence has been heard, followed by legal submissions, over the actions of a police sergeant about whom it was said that ‘he was more interested in finishing his shift than properly assessing a woman who later died in custody (read background here)’.

At the time, Jason Marsden was working as a custody desk sergeant for Lancashire Police when Kelly Hartigan-Burns, aged 35, was arrested and taken to Greenbank Police Station in Blackburn on 3rd December, 2016.

She was put in a cell but was later found unresponsive and pronounced dead in hospital less than two days later having spent the intervening period on a life support system.

Ex-P/Sgt Marsden, who retired shortly before the proceedings opened on 27th September, 2021, faced a number of alleged breaches of ethical and professional standards, but denies any wrongdoing. He elected not to appear and give evidence at the hearing.

During the gross misconduct hearing, the panel, chaired by lawyer Paul Forster, heard how Kelly, originally from Bolton but living with her partner in Darwen at the material time, had tried to take her own life earlier that evening.

However, she was later arrested by police over a separate issue involving an alleged assault on her partner and taken into custody.

Kelly, who had known mental health issues, was, at the time, on medication from a psychiatrist when she was arrested, the hearing was told.

Charles Apthorp, the barrister representing the Chief Constable and who presented the case against Mr Marsden, submitted: “Officers are supposed to be diligent, and I stress that.

“In custody, they are supposed to ask questions in an open way to encourage and elicit information.

“There was no proper attempt to do this. The officer read quick-fire questions as rote. It was a tick-box exercise.”

Mr Apthorp also told the hearing that Kelly had been ‘moved from the custody desk to the holding cell as quickly as possible’.

Sarah Barlow, representing  Jason Marsden, said her client ‘had completed most custody requirements and faced a difficult situation that night’.

She also told the hearing that Kelly had been shouting, struggling and was intoxicated and it was P/Sgt Marsden’s belief that there was the potential for violence from her.

Miss Barlow added that Kelly was then was questioned briefly and put in a cell, which, she asserted, was quite common when police thought violence was possible.

She said other officers on arrival at the station had not made the custody sergeant aware of Kelly’s mental health issues or attempt to take her life that night. But, as information came to light, he referred her for a visit the next morning by the next shift contingent.

Sarah Barlow’s overarching submission was that ‘if any breach had happened, it did not justify a misconduct or gross misconduct finding’. In the event, that turned about to be a wholly misconceived submission.


Following further deliberations on Monday 11th October, 2021 the case of gross misconduct against Jason Marsden was proved.

The Panel concluded that Marsden had breached a number of policing procedures, policies and codes of conduct during and after the detention, and purported risk assessment, of Kelly.

He would have been dismissed issued without notice had he not retired from Lancashire Constabulary in August 2021, a few weeks after being notified of the disciplinary proceedings.

June Hartigan said of her daughter after the hearing:

“Kelly was a victim of negligence and total ignorance. A stray dog would have got more attention.

“This hearing is not going to bring back my daughter but hopefully this will help other families. It has gone back and forth between different authorities including the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) and IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) and the length of time taken to get to this hearing has been horrendous.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, who have supported Kelly’s family, added: “It is clear that she was a woman in crisis, in need of care and specialist support – not custody. This indifference and neglect cost Kelly her life.

“While this critical finding is welcome, it has taken far too long to get to this point. The officer was able to retire early, weeks before this hearing, and there are no sanctions for him. Yet again police officers are able to evade responsibility and accountability for deaths.”

After the hearing, Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Russ Procter of Lancashire Constabulary said:

“First and foremost our sincere condolences and thoughts remain with Kelly Hartigan-Burns’ loved ones at this time.

“Following a two week Hearing held at Leyland Police Station, an independent panel found that a case of Gross Misconduct against former officer Jason Marsden was proved.

“The Panel determined that Jason Marsden would have been dismissed if he had still been a serving officer and his name will now be added to the Barred List.

“Due to ongoing coronial and civil proceedings it would be inappropriate and unfair to the integrity of those hearings for us to comment any further at this time.”

An inquest to establish the cause of Kelly’s death will be held in Blackburn in February 2022. As such, the cause of death was not examined at the police disciplinary hearing.

Page last updated at 1635hrs on Wednesday 13th October, 2021

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Photo credit: Hartigan family

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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