Cobridge man’s death in police custody ‘could not have been prevented,’ inquest told

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The death of a Cobridge man in police custody could not have been prevented, an inquest has heard.

Nicholas Rowley died at the Staffordshire Police Northern Area Custody Facility in Etruria on the evening of October 2 2011.

The 34-year-old methadone user, of Waterloo Road, had been arrested the day before for breaching his bail after being found unconscious in John Street Car Park in Hanley.

North Staffordshire Coroner’s Court, sitting at Hanley Town Hall, heard that Mr Rowley had seen a number of times while he was in custody.

Police surgeon Dr Jason Payne-James defended the doctors who treated Mr Rowley, adding that deaths in custody remained rare.

“I think they treated and prescribed appropriately,” he said, before telling the inquest that communication between police and medical staff was important.

When asked by Coroner Ian Smith whether Mr Rowley’s death was preventable, Dr Payne-James said that in his view, it was not.

The jury has heard the last doctor to examine the dead man was Dr Helen Fenwick who said he was suffering from “significant” alcohol withdrawal just a few hours before he died and she recommended he was kept under observation on camera.

Dr Fenwick did not tell Custody Sergeant David Malam of her recommendation, the inquest heard.

Police had earlier given Mr Rowley a can of lager to hold back the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, the jury was told.

Forensic pathologist Amanda Jeffery told the inquest a post-mortem examination revealed a very high level of methadone in his bloodstream.

She said she believed the cause of death was methadone intoxication and alcohol withdrawal.

Mr Rowley is understood to have taken his prescribed dose of methadone under the supervision of a doctor while in custody.

Asked whether she felt Mr Rowley being under CCTV observation would have prevented his death, Dr Jeffery told the inquest it was “highly unlikely.”

She added that to the untrained eye Mr Rowley would have appeared to be asleep.

Professor Robert Flannagan, who has dealt with the deaths of methadone users in prison, said that even a dose a person is used to can kill them.

He said: “Methadone is a very dangerous drug.

“Even people who have been taking it for years can die from its toxic effects in certain circumstances”

The inquest continues.

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