Custody sergeant felt cell death dad was ‘putting on’ drunken state

South Shields Police Station
South Shields Police Station

A police sergeant has admitted he initially thought a tragic dad who died of alcohol poisoning just hours after being taken into custody was ‘putting on’ his drunken state.

Chronic alcoholic Martin Leck was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and detained in the cells at South Shields Police Station on the night of his death on March 22, 2013.

I thought he was putting on his level of drunkenness

Charles Chastney

The 34-year-old, who also suffered from epilepsy, had been held at the police station for little more than two hours when he was found unconscious by a detention officer carrying out a regular check on his safety shortly after 10pm.

Attempts were made to revive the father-of-two in his cell before he was transported to South Tyneside Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11.44pm.

Jurors at an inquest being held into Mr Leck’s death were told that custody sergeant Charles Chastney had concluded he should be kept in custody rather than transferred straight to hospital as he was in a drunk state - but not drunk and incapable.

Mr Chastney, who retired from the force in February, said he believed Mr Leck may have been ‘over-egging the pudding’ as regards his level of intoxication when he was being booked into custody.

Mr Leck was flanked by two police officers when he stumbled on his way to the custody desk, with Sgt Chastney getting up from his seat after hearing the noise of his fall.

He said Mr Leck had returned to his feet as he approached him.

Mr Chastney confirmed he said to Mr Leck at the time; “Come on, Martin, nobody is that drunk man.”

Explaining his actions while giving evidence at the inquest, Mr Chastney said; “I said it to get a reaction from him. I thought he was putting on his level of drunkenness, over-egging the pudding if you will.”

Mr Chastney says that once he carried out a risk assessment as part of his booking-in procedure, he assessed that Mr Leck was ‘very drunk’ but was well enough to be detained at the station.

He decided he should be given checks every fifteen minutes - on his breathing and level of responsiveness - that would include rousing him from sleep.

Mr Chastney said: “He was drunk, but he was clearly capable.

“He answered questions such as his address and what medication he was on.”

Mr Chastney also called for a forensic medical examiner to see Mr Leck as he was concerned that alcohol withdrawal may trigger epileptic seizures if he was kept in custody for a period of several hours.

Mr Chastney said he himself made two checks on Mr Leck while he was in custody and found no reason to be alarmed.

He told jurors that he had been unaware that one of the detention officers under his command - police constable Amy Cavanagh - had not entered Mr Leck’s police cell to complete her inspection at 9.15pm, instead observing him from a monitor positioned at the custody deck of South Shields Police Station.

She recorded that the check had been completed and Mr Leck was responsive in a custody sheet and didn’t tell fellow officers she hadn’t entered Mr Leck’s cell.

Mr Chastney said the detention officer only informed him of her actions as Mr Leck was being led away to hospital.

“I was not aware at the time (that the in-cell check had not been made and would not have authorised that.”

Mr Leck, of Imeary Street, South Shields, was seven times over the drink-drive limit when he died.

Home Office Pathologist Dr Jennifer Bolton said the cause of Mr Leck’s death was acute alcohol poisoning.

Forensic medical examiner, Dr Alan Jones, who had treated Mr Leck at the police station on two previous stays in custody in the days leading up to his death, earlier told the inquest it would be ‘absurd’ to expect all drunk people arrested to be taken straight to hospital.

Dr Jones said: “Just based on the fact that someone is intoxicated, it would be absurd to send them straight to hospital.

“There are many people intoxicated when on the street or at home who do not need to be taken to hospital as their lives are not in danger.”

The inquest continues.