South West Wales

Pepper spray possible factor in man's choking death

Darran Hunt Image copyright Family photo

Pepper spray may have contributed to the death of a man who choked on a bag of drugs he had put in his mouth, an inquest jury has concluded.

Darran Hunt, 36, was arrested in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, on 8 February 2015.

He was sprayed by officers to bring him "under control" when they saw him put the bag in his mouth.

The Milford Haven inquest heard pepper spray can make someone cough or inhale, and returned a narrative conclusion.

The jury said the spray and "strong physical contact on Mr Hunt" may have been contributing factors in his death.

The coroner has retired and will issue his recommendation at a later date.

'Inappropriate force'

In a statement issued after the hearing, Mr Hunt's family said he was "was badly let down by the police" and that there was a "dangerous gap" in training about how to deal with people who put something in their mouths.

"The officers knew that Darran was at risk of swallowing when he was approached, yet they still used what we believe is inappropriate force on him to try to restrain him," the statement said.

"There is currently no police training at all about the use of pava [pepper] spray in these circumstances, and we are very pleased that the coroner is taking action to address this issue nationally with the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing.

"We miss Darran terribly and we hope lessons will be learned from his death so that no more families have to be in this tragic position again."

Assistant Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police, Pam Kelly, said: "Immediately after the incident we referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which carried out an investigation and has concluded there is no case to answer in respect of any use of force or use of pava spray.

"Incidents of this nature are difficult to deal with and I appreciate the inquest's recognition of such professional challenges and in particular the efforts of officers and paramedics to resuscitate Mr Hunt."

IPCC Commissioner for Wales Jan Williams said: "All efforts by police officers to retrieve the package from Mr Hunt failed and when the package was eventually recovered by the paramedic it was unfortunately too late to prevent his death."

His death "demonstrates how attempting to conceal drugs in this way from police can all too easily have fatal consequences", she added.

Dyfed-Powys Police and Ms Williams said their thoughts were with Mr Hunt's family.

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