Officers will not face court over ‘errors’ that led to Leonard McCourt’s death


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The Independent Online

The family of a man who died in the back of a police van following a “catalogue of errors” by officers supposed to be monitoring him today spoke of their anger that nobody would face a criminal prosecution over his death.

Leonard McCourt, 44, was found collapsed in the back of the van after a short journey to a police station but officers stood with their hands on hips and did nothing for nine minutes to try to resuscitate him, an inquest heard.

Four officers will now face misconduct hearings over the arrest and death of the 44-year-old. They face conduct charges including for the failure to provide proper first aid or monitor 6ft 2in Mr McCourt after he was handcuffed and kept on the floor in the back of the van.

An inquest jury found this week that Mr McCourt died during the journey after twice being pepper-sprayed outside his home in Seaham, County Durham. He confronted police who were called after he had been drinking following a row with his partner, according to his family.

The inquest heard that Mr McCourt, who had a heart condition, became quiet on the way to Peterlee police station and there was no interaction between him and the officers during the journey.

Mr McCourt's family said they were devastated when they learned that no officer would face a criminal charge over the death.

"The worst that can happen to them now is they will lose their jobs," said Mr McCourt's sister-in-law Tracey. "Whatever happens, it will never bring our Leonard back. We were absolutely devastated when we were told there wasn't enough evidence from criminal proceedings. Once we got all the evidence there was more than enough."

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that it concluded no charges would be brought because any prosecution would have to prove that McCourt would not have died if officers had acted differently.

"The evidence did not enable the prosecution to establish this," said a CPS spokeswoman. "Neither did we consider there to have been sufficient evidence that the police officers wilfully neglected their duty, or that they assaulted or falsely imprisoned him."

Mrs McCourt also criticised the decision to grant anonymity to the four officers - two constables, a special constable and sergeant - at the inquest until it was rescinded following a challenge by the Northern Echo newspaper.

Durham's temporary chief constable Mike Barton has apologised to the family and said he was "extremely disappointed" by what had happened.

He said he was looking into installing cameras in the backs of vans but said there were technical issues. "I am deeply sorry that what happened, happened," he said.

Britain's largest force, the Metropolitan Police, announced a £4m refit of its vans to install closed-circuit television cameras earlier this year because of concerns about the hidden abuse of suspects. The pledge came after an inquest jury rejected the evidence of police officers after Sean Rigg, 40, a mentally-ill man died after being taken by van to a police station.

The family said that the IPCC had also apologised for failing to include details about how he was put in the back of their van in the report, facts which they claim were key to his death. A jury earlier this week returned a verdict of misadventure and said that his death was caused by factors including heart problems, the effects of alcohol and physical stress.

Nicholas Long, an IPCC commissioner, said: "The arrest and use of incapacitant spray appears to have been fully justified. However, after that there was a catalogue of failures in the care afforded to Mr McCourt.

"Attempts at resuscitation did not start for almost nine minutes after Mr McCourt had been discovered collapsed."

In a statement, Durham Constabulary said it accepted the inquest's findings and that lessons had been learned following Mr McCourt's death, but stressed the "verdict recognises the officers involved acted lawfully throughout this incident.

Helen Shaw, co-director of INQUEST which investigates cases of death in custody said the death was just the latest that raised concerns about how police officers responded to people who were unwell.

"There must be an urgent review of training in the use of restraint, and where failures have been identified those responsible must be held to account."