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Accident verdict on man

PUBLISHED: 17:42 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 10:21 03 July 2010

A Great Yarmouth inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of a retired steel erector who spent one and a half hours in a police station before being taken to hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and died of serious brain injuries two days later.

A Great Yarmouth inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of a retired steel erector who spent one and a half hours in a police station before being taken to hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and died of serious brain injuries two days later.

Henry Purnell's daughter Melanie Sawyer, of Northampton, acknowledged the evidence of pathologist Benjamin Swift that her father's life would not have been saved by getting to hospital quicker, but said he would have at least been spared “the humiliation and degradation of spending his last hours in a police cell”.

She said: “An important lesson to be learned is that emergency services personnel should not assume that because someone has been drinking they are just drunk.”

She also highlighted what the inquest had exposed as an apparent communication failure between ambulance control room and the crew which attended 77-year-old Mr Purnell in St Peter's Road, Yarmouth, on the early evening of February 2 last year.

Both ambulance technicians said their original call had not told them Mr Purnell had been unconscious for a time - a fact which would have led them to giving him a far more thorough examination. However, evidence from ambulance service manager Marcus Bailey apparently contradicted them, saying a “code 31” message had been sent, indicating the casualty had been unconscious.

Mrs Sawyer's husband Paul also raised a question about whether police should have tried to find eyewitnesses more quickly who could have confirmed the severity of Mr Purnell's fall backwards - later described by an observer as “one hell of a bang”.

The inquest on Monday heard that Mr Purnell, of Marine Parade, Yarmouth, had been drinking heavily and hospital doctors later found the alcohol level in his blood equivalent to three times the legal driving limit.

He had lashed out at ambulance staff, which is why police were called, and he was eventually arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

Dr Swift told the jury that the evidence from ambulance staff and the police that Mr Purnell was conscious and apparently not badly hurt was consistent with his injuries.

The bleeding on his brain resulting from a badly fractured skull would have taken hours to develop - he was still alert on arrival in accident and emergency but later quickly lapsed into a coma. A brain scan subsequently showed no treatment was possible.

Rob Lawrence, chief operating officer (Suffolk) for East of England Ambulance Service, said after the verdict that lessons had already been learned in that staff had been given instructions to take extra care when a patient might be intoxicated or have a head injury. However, he said ambulance staff had a tough job and were often confronted with violence caused by alcohol intoxication.

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