‘No way’ paramedics would tend to dying dad without police back up, inquest hears

Sunderland Coroner's Court at Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Coroner's Court at Sunderland Civic Centre.

A paramedic told a call handler there was “absolutely no way” he and his crew were going to the house of a dying dad who said he was a having a heart attack without police back-up because he had previously been aggressive towards emergency staff, an inquest heard.

The recording of the telephone conversation between paramedic Jacob Gunn and a Northumbria Police handler was played during the hearing into the death of Houghton man Darren James Powney.

Mr Powney had called 999 suffering what he believed to be a heart attack at 6.52am on December 28 last year.

The call was classed as in the “red two” category meaning it was life-threatening, and North East Ambulance Service crew was dispatched from Chester-le-Street to treat the 37-year-old, but after records showed that he had previously been aggressive towards emergency services, including admitting owning a claw hammer for his own protection, the staff said they would not attend without police support.

Officers from Northumbria Police said that protocol advised the ambulance crew to attend the scene and if Mr Powney was violent, to re-contact them and retreat to a safe point.

When an officer was sent, getting there at 8.14am, one hour and 22 minutes after the call for help, Mr Powney, of Shields Place, was found slumped in a chair and unresponsive.

The ambulance crew, who had been at a rendezvous point 0.6 miles away in Houghton town centre, followed shortly after the officer and attempted to resuscitate Mr Powney.

He was later declared dead, with a post-mortem finding he had suffered a pulmonary embolism.

In a call played for the jury, Mr Gunn said: “We have got quite a lot of warnings on this address, issues that people have had.

“There is absolutely no way that me and my crew are going to go into this address with that history.

“I’ve said I’m not happy and my crew are in agreement about entering without police back-up.

“I think it would be stupid with that history of violence.”

The Northumbria Police call handler then told Mr Gunn that police had been advised not to enter, as there was suggestion that Mr Powney was going to be violent or aggressive on that day.

Giving evidence, Mr Gunn’s fellow paramedic Holly Smith said: “We all discussed it and decided to get the police there just as a precaution.”

A protocol jointly agreed by the North East Ambulance Service and Northumbria Police, which was implemented in August 2016, advised that in spite of any warnings about previous incidents concerning violence, aggression, substance misuse or the owning of weapons, crews should attend the scene.

However, all three workers on the board the ambulance, Mr Gunn, Ms Smith and Caroline Connolly, said they were not aware of that procedure at the time of Mr Powney’s death.

A market warning emergency services about Mr Powney’s behaviour had been placed on his address in June, but in three previous visits by ambulance crews leading up to his death, there had been no trouble.

Mr Gunn added: “I would agree that better communication with the police would benefit both of us.

“In hindsight this was a medical intervention only, however, we did not know that at the time.”

Also giving evidence was Chief Superintendent Sav Patsalos, head of the communications department at Northumbria Police, who told the hearing that markers such as the ones on Mr Powney’s address were only to be used as guidance.

“The historic markers are to be used in intelligence in line with what is happening at the current situation,” said Chf Supt Patsalos.

“I was fully in agreement that this was low risk.

“There is nothing in the context of (Mr Powney’s 999) call to suggest a higher threat.”

The inquest, which is taking place at Sunderland Coroner’s Court and being presided over by Derek Winter, is expected to finish today (WED).