Misadventure verdict in cocaine swallowing custody death

A man who died in police custody after swallowing cocaine was inadequately searched by officers, an inquest jury has concluded. 

Apr 4, 2019
By Tony Thompson

Lee Sparks, 29, died in hospital in December 2015 after being arrested on suspicion of shoplifting at Tesco in Newmarket, Suffolk. The jury was shown CCTV footage of staff and shoppers holding Mr Sparks down on the store’s entrance mat until police arrived.  

He was arrested just after 6pm and initial searches failed to find any drugs on his person. Mr Sparks later told officers at Bury St Edmunds police investigation centre that he had swallowed a quantity of cocaine. He was taken to West Suffolk Hospital, where he died at 11pm. 

After a five-day inquest in Ipswich, the jury returned a narrative verdict, concluding that Mr Sparks died as a result of misadventure. 

The jury said: “The misadventure being that Lee Sparks ingested an ounce of cocaine in order to avoid detention and arrest for possession of an illegal substance. This was possible due to the failure to share information and inadequate communication to [other] police officers in relation to the suspicion of a drugs package in Lee’s possession by a police officer on the scene.” 

The jury concluded that this led “to the inadequate search of Lee’s possessions, clothing, person and the surrounding area in order to locate the suspicious package”. 

A spokesman for Suffolk Police said the force continuously reviewed its procedures to make sure it provided the best quality service to the public. 

“Where we could have done things better, we will look to learn from those cases and, where appropriate, make suitable changes,” he said.  

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