Cocaine death in police custody in Suffolk was 'misadventure'

Tesco Extra Newmarket Image copyright Google
Image caption Lee Sparks was detained by shoppers and staff at the Tesco store in Newmarket

A man who died in police custody after swallowing cocaine was inadequately searched by police, a jury concluded.

Lee Sparks, 29, died in hospital in December 2015 after being arrested on suspicion of shoplifting at Tesco in Newmarket.

Failures in communication led to an "inadequate search" of Mr Sparks before he ingested the drugs, an inquest heard.

Suffolk Police said it looked to learn from cases where it could do better.

The jury was shown CCTV footage of staff and shoppers holding Mr Sparks down on the store's entrance mat until police arrived.

He was arrested at 18:10 GMT and later told officers at Bury St Edmunds police investigation centre he had swallowed cocaine.

He was taken to West Suffolk Hospital, where he died at 23:00.

The inquest heard searches of Mr Sparks, from Icklingham in Suffolk, had failed to yield any drugs.

His father had told the hearing he knew his son "would not live to a ripe old age".

'Failure to share'

After a five-day inquest in Ipswich, the jury returned a narrative verdict, concluding he died as a result of misadventure.

They said: "The misadventure being that Lee Sparks ingested an ounce of cocaine in order to avoid detention and arrest for possession of an illegal substance.

"This was possible due to the failure to share information and inadequate communication to [other] police officers in relation to the suspicion of a drugs package in Lee's possession by a police officer on the scene."

They concluded that this led "to the inadequate search of Lee's possessions, clothing, person and the surrounding area in order to locate the suspicious package".

A spokesman for Suffolk Police said the force continuously reviewed its procedures to make sure it provided the best quality service to the public.

"Where we could have done things better, we will look to learn from those cases and, where appropriate, make suitable changes."

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