Cops accused of making fun out of dying prisoner

POLICE officers laughed and joked about a young man they saw die on the floor of a cell, an inquest heard.

Paul Coker, 32, died at Plumstead Police Station, two hours after he was arrested at the house of Lucy Chadwick, on suspicion of breaching the peace, in the early hours of August 6, 2005.

The jury at his inquest at Southwark Coroners Court this week, heard how he struggled with several police officers and tried to jump out of a first floor window.

He was taken to Plumstead Police Station and put in cell eight, where he stripped off to his boxer shorts and one sock.

Jurors were shown CCTV footage inside the cell, showing Mr Coker lying face-down on the floor, next to the toilet basin in his cell, not moving, for approximately 15minutes, before he is pronounced dead.

About five minutes after Mr Coker is pronounced dead, an officer in the custody suite can be heard on CCTV saying “you have to get one death in custody under your belt.”

Minutes before the death is announced, a voice from, whom it is believed to be PS30RG Darren Squirrell, can he heard saying: “If he stays here he’s going to be a death in custody.”

A nonchalant PC25RG Afit Mahmood, who was keeping watch on Mr Coker, told Coroner Selina Lynch, an ambulance was only called for “transport reasons”.

In the footage Mr Mahmood, now attached to the Ilford division, can be heard telling a doctor in the cells’ passage “his breathing is so faint that you cannot see it”.

But Mr Mahmood told the court that Dr Neil Santamaria looked through the wicket and told him “he has his top off so you can’t see his breathing” and gave him no instructions.

When the London Ambulance Service crew arrive, the deceased is still lying face down, but paramedics look through the wicket and wait approximately five minutes for more officers to arrive.

Mr Mahmood said: “We needed other officers outside the cell before we went in. We needed to be prepared.”

The coroner said: “He hasn’t moved a muscle for the last 15minutes so I am sure it is safe.” Mr Mahmood replied “no”.

He also told the family’s barrister Rajiv Menon that Mr Coker being in the prone position caused him no concerns and that positional asphyxia did not enter his mind.

When asked by Mr Menon: “Did it cross your mind that this man was dying?” he replied: “No. Otherwise I would have got the doctor again”.

He said he had “no idea” why he didn’t tell anyone that Mr Coker still hadn’t moved.

Mr Mahmood told Mr Menon that “he could not recall any specific training” in excited delirium and acute behavioural disorder.

He told the coroner that he did not think Mr Coker was an urgent medical case that needed to be rushed to hospital.

He added: “He has taken drugs and that is the reason why he has to be going there (hospital).”

Mr Menon asked: “With hindsight, do you think that was humane behaviour?” After a long pause, he said: “I am not going to answer that question.”

Sergeant at the time PS35RG Jon Burrows, now an Inspector, told the court that he told the Designated Detention Officer (DDO) Adrian Laber “to keep a good eye” on Mr Coker after a doctor said he was not fit to be detained.

The inquest continues.

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