Pepper spray – prevention of future deaths
As reported in the national media, the Area Coroner for Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, Mr Gareth Lewis, has announced that he will be making a Prevention of Future Deaths Report to the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing in response to the death of Darran Hunt, who died in Llanelli following police contact on 8 February 2015.
The inquest into the death of Darran Hunt was held in Milford Haven Coroner’s Court before a jury between 30 January and 3 February 2017.
The inquest heard that Darran was known by the police to be a risk of swallowing drugs when approached by officers. His mother, Kathryn Hunt, told the inquest that Darran was desperate to maintain his abstinence from heroin, and would often swallow his own prescribed drugs for fear of them being confiscated by the police.
On 8 February 2015 Darran was approached by three Dyfed Powys Police officers. He was seen to put a package in his mouth. Officers attempted by force to prevent Darran from swallowing the package, and deployed PAVA incapacitant spray into his face at close range, after which Darran fell to his knees. He was then restrained and handcuffed, before an ambulance was called and unsuccessful attempts at resuscitation started.
The jury concluded that the deployment of PAVA spray and the “strong physical contact” by the police may have been contributing factors in Darran’s death.
The Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report will address:
- training of police officers in what to do when someone places a potentially harmful object in their mouth; and
- whether PAVA spray should ever be deployed at a person who is believed to have placed something in their mouth – about which there is currently no national guidance.
Darran’s family said:
“We believe Darran was badly let down by the police, and the jury concluded that the police actions in restraining Darran and using PAVA spray on him may have contributed to his death. The officers knew that Darran was a risk of swallowing when he was approached, yet they still used what we believe is inappropriate force on him to try to restrain him.
“We believe there is a dangerous gap in police training about how to deal with people who put something in their mouths, and we strongly believe that PAVA spray must never be used when police see someone trying to swallow. The police training was totally confusing, even to their own officers. There is currently no police training at all about the use PAVA 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 are also pleased that the Welsh Ambulance Service has acted in response to Darran’s death to address staffing levels, delays in answering the police call for an ambulance and confusion between paramedics in when to stop resuscitation, which all arose in Darran’s inquest.
“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.”
Darran’s family were represented by Karen Rogers of Tuckers Solicitors and Tom Stoate of Garden Court Chambers, and supported by INQUEST with whom the family has been working since Darran’s death.