Page last updated at 17:51 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Training of police officers criticised over cell death

Paul Coker
Mr Coker showed symptoms of excited derilium

Inadequate training and communication between officers led to them failing to recognise the condition of a cocaine addict who died in police custody.

Paul Coker died at Plumstead police station hours after he was arrested for breaching the peace at his girlfriend's home in August 2005, an inquest heard.

He told officers "I can't breathe, you're killing me", during the arrest.

The inquest jury at Southwark Coroner's Court found officers did not recognise the "symptoms of excited delirium."

Two hours after his arrest at Lucy Chadwick's house in south-east London, Mr Coker, 32, became unwell and collapsed after being transported to cells, the inquest heard.

Selena Lynch, the assistant deputy coroner, told jurors that a pathologist's report gave the cause of death as cocaine intoxication.

This verdict is a condemnation of the failures of the police and the police doctor to care properly for my son when he was clearly very ill and in need of urgent medical attention
Patricia Coker, mother

Mr Coker had been battling depression and substance abuse and had been sentenced for burglary. But days before his death he had secured a new job and was about to move into a flat, the court heard.

Delivering the verdict, the jury foreman said Mr Coker was "lawfully arrested and restrained" but added: "We find there was inadequate pooling of information between police officers and failure to communicate effectively among police officers, designated detention officers (DDO) and forensic medical examiner.

"It is not possible to determine whether the outcome would have been affected.

"Training provided to police and DDO did not reflect accurately the spectrum of symptoms presented by people suffering from excited delirium or acute behavioural disorder."

The jury also found that the doctor did not carry out an adequate assessment of Mr Coker and failed to advise officers, who were trained to recognise only severe symptoms.

'Reflect on recommendations'

Ms Lynch said she would make a series of recommendations to the London Ambulance Service, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Faculty of Forensic Medicine on training and guidance over excited delirium, the use of police vehicles, grading 999 calls over cocaine intoxication and monitoring and observations.

She said: "I hope lessons have been learned and continue to be learned in relation to Paul's death."

In a statement Mr Coker's mother, Patricia Coker, said: "This verdict is a condemnation of the failures of the police and the police doctor to care properly for my son when he was clearly very ill and in need of urgent medical attention."

Responding to the ruling, The Metropolitan Police said it will reflect on the recommendations and is committed to ensuring "officers and staff receive adequate training to help identify all potential life threatening conditions".



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