One policeman bit the body and another kicked "as hard as he could" the head of a suspect who later died in custody, an inquest heard yesterday.
Shiji Lapite, a 30-year-old Nigerian, was pronounced dead on arrival at Homerton Hospital on 16 December 1994 following an arrest by officers from Stoke Newington police station in North London.
A post-mortem showed the father-of-two died of asphyxia, the pressure used being so great that it had crushed his voicebox.
The two officers told St Pancras Coroner's Court they had been "in fear for their lives" during a struggle in which Lapite, according to one pathologist's report, sustained 45 different injuries.
Coroner Dr Stephen Chan noted that there was a "gross disparity" between the injuries sustained by Lapite and the two officers who had arrested him on suspicion of possession of drugs. Neither officer could explain the disparity.
PC Paul Wright, 28, who told the court he had bitten Lapite after Lapite had bitten him, said he had employed a necklock on the Nigerian after Lapite had attempted to strangle him during the course of the struggle. There were no recorded injuries to PC Wright's neck, although he did sustain injuries to his arm.
The other officer, PC Andrew McCallum, 24, who described Lapite as "the most violent man I've ever come across", sustained one minor hand injury. Both officers said that the extreme strength of Lapite suggested that he had taken drugs.
PC Wright said the two plain-clothes officers had stopped to question Lapite after they had seen him acting suspiciously after leaving a restaurant. PC Wright said that Lapite had dropped a quantity of drugs when he realised police were following him. When they attempted to arrest him on suspicion of possession Lapite resisted and a fight broke out. During what both officers described as a "violent" struggle, PC Wright and Lapite had fallen to the ground.
The court heard that at one point Lapite had put his hands around PC Wright's neck. "He then started to strangle me. I was in fear for my life and PC McCallum's," he said. "I could not lessen his grip.
"I did try to move his hands but was unable to do so. He was a very very strong man."
PC McCallum said he "had let go, stood up and kicked Lapite in the head as hard as I could".
Ben Emmerson, counsel for Lapite's family, suggested that Lapite had actually been struggling for his life. When asked to explain the "gross disparity" of injuries sustained by the officers and Lapite, PC McCallum said he did not believe excessive force was used.
The inquest continues today.