Police slammed over custody death

A coroner has criticised a police force after "serious deficiencies" in procedures were exposed by an inquest into the death of a former cage fighter who died in custody after he was pepper-sprayed by officers.

Jacob Michael, 25, died by misadventure as a result of "cocaine induced excited delirium", an inquest jury found, but they also found that a catalogue of police failures may have contributed to his death.

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Michael's mother, Christine Michael, said she was "disappointed" by the verdict and claimed she still held the police responsible. Cheshire Police said lessons had been learned and that a range of improvements had already been put into action.

The inquest was told that Mr Michael called police on August 22 last year after he believed somebody had pulled a gun on him. He then locked himself in his bedroom in Lacey Street, Widnes, and was restrained by police officers after a struggle. Police officers said Mr Michael threatened them with a hammer, which led them to incapacitate him with pepper spray.

The jury of eight women and one man at Warrington Coroner's Court, sitting at Daresbury Park Hotel, reached its verdict after more than two days of deliberations. Reading their narrative verdict, Nicholas Rheinberg, the Coroner for Cheshire, said: "Partying and his heart's susceptibility to cocaine probably contributed to the death."

The "fear, flight and fight" response caused during the arrest "may have also contributed to the death", the jury found. The jury also ruled that "ineffective" police training, procedural failures, failures to carry out a "timely assessment" and a lack of communication may have also contributed to the death.

IPCC commissioner Naseem Malik said: "This was a tragic incident which understandably raised public concern. A young man died after being arrested by Cheshire Constabulary officers. My sympathies go out to his family. This remains an incredibly difficult time for them.

"Although Mr Michael's behaviour that day, and ultimately his death, was the result of his cocaine use, it is clear from our independent investigation that the officers were inadequately trained in identifying that Mr Michael was suffering from excited delirium or acute behavioural disorder. Better training for the officers may have given them the tools to be able to recognise Mr Michael was in a life-threatening situation.

"The officers believed they were dealing with an aggressive man who had taken drugs. What they did not know was they were dealing with a man who had lost control of his body and was on the verge of death.

"Police officers are at the front line of dealing with emergencies of all types and it is vitally important they are given the training to ensure they can respond in the best possible way. I trust lessons will be learned by Cheshire Constabulary from this tragedy and their training processes will be improved. The IPCC will publish its full findings from the independent investigation in due course."