Dad's tribute to 'kind-hearted' son as inquest into custody death continues

A South Tyneside man died after being taken into police custody having drunk a potentially fatal amount of alcohol.
Mr Leck died in South Tyneside Hospital.Mr Leck died in South Tyneside Hospital.
Mr Leck died in South Tyneside Hospital.

Martin Leck, 34, was found unconscious in a cell in South Shields Police Station just hours after his arrest.

A inquest heard police officers and medical staff tried to revive the dad-of-two after he stopped breathing but he died less than a hour after being transferred to South Tyneside District Hospital.

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A jury of seven men and two women was told Mr Leck was a chronic alcoholic and former heroin addict and was the equivalent of seven times over the drink-drive limit at the time of his death.

Home Office pathologist Jennifer Bolton told the hearing Mr Leck had died due to acute alcohol poisoning.

The inquest heard that he had been arrested after swearing at police officers who had been called to remove him from the home of his partner in Imeary Street after a row.

Mr Leck was placed in a "drunk cell" – specially designed for people displaying signs of drunkenness – at 8.25pm on Friday March 22, 2013, with regular 15-minute checks carried out on his well-being.

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Tragic South Shields dad died after falling ill in police custody
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CCTV footage of desperate attempts made by detention officers and a medical examiner to revive him was shown to jurors.

Mr Leck was transported to South Tyneside Hospital at about 11pm. He was pronounced dead at 11.44pm.

Dr Bolton told the jury that the level of alcohol in his system – 572mg in 100ml of breath – was above the level of between 350 and 400 which can prove fatal.

She told the inquest, led by South Tyneside Coroner Terence Carney, the amount of alcohol in his system would impair his brain function, leading to his breathing slowing or stopping altogether.

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She said: “The most significant finding was in the toxicology report, more specifically the alcohol level.

“With the level of alcohol in his system, Mr Leck would have been at significant risk by going into a coma and subsequently dying.

“While he would have developed a tolerance to alcohol, you are still at risk of your breathing slowing down or stopping because of it.”

She concluded his reaction to the alcohol had caused his breathing to slow, before he stopped breathing, causing a cardiac arrest.

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David Winlow, a friend of Mr Leck, who was at the house when he was arrested, said he had been "frogmarched" out by police.

PC Laura Sinclair and Community Support Officer Daniel Baxter said police had been called to the home when Mr Leck refused to leave after a row with his partner.

They said fellow officers had pulled him up off a sofa by the arms as he was “very unsteady” on his feet due to his alcohol consumption.

He was arrested for being drunk and disorderly after hurling abuse at an officer outside the house.

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Carol Gibson, Mr Leck’s partner, said he had drank two bottles of vodka during the day. Following Mr Leck’s death, an investigation was launched as a matter of course by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Mohammad Ejaz, who oversaw the IPCC probe, told the hearing that Mr Leck had been taken into police custody ten times in the three months proceeding his death.

One one occasion, he had deemed too intoxicated to be kept in custody and was instead taken to hospital for medical treatment.

On the other nine times, he had been detained in custody with regular checks carried out on him of between 15 to 30 minutes. He was deemed by officers to be intoxicated on all ten occasions.

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Alan Leck, Mr Leck's father, offered an emotional tribute to his son at yesterday's inquest, who he said had turned to alcohol after winning a 15-year fight to overcome a heroin addiction.

Speaking to jurors as an inquest into his death got underway, he said he always felt ‘relieved’ when he was told his son was in police custody because he believed he would be being looked after.

Mr Leck said; “I was always expecting a knock on the door. When I got a call from the police saying he was at the police station I could relax.

“He was in a place of safety. He was being looked after. That was what I would think. It was a relief to me.

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“It had a bigger impact on me because of the circumstances.”

He added: “For lots of years I thought was a place of safety. It turns out it wasn’t.”

He urged jurors tasked with reaching a conclusion over his death to remember he was "a father, a brother’ and a son".

He said his son was a kind-hearted man who had always been ready to help everyone.

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But he added that he was "a different person" when in the grips of addiction.

Mr Leck added: “I ask you to remember, irrespective of the horrible things you will hear, he was a father of two children, he was a brother, he was a son.

“Don’t lose sight of that fact.

“Martín was a recovered heroin addict. I spent 15 years getting him off heroin, but he took to alcohol as a support.

He couldn’t face real life. He had problems, he was no angel.

“When he was in rehab he was voted most likely to succeed.

“He once went to Bulgaria to make ramps for disabled people. If he saw an old woman crossing the road he would carry their bags.

“He would help anyone. There really was another person there.”

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