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Police criticised in Paul Coker death-in-custody Inquest

An inquest last week criticised police over the death of Paul Coker, who died in a police station in 2005. Patricia Coker, Paul’s mother, gives her view

Issue No. 2192

Patricia Coker at a vigil for her son, Paul, outside Plumstead police station in August 2007 on the second anniversary of his death

Patricia Coker at a vigil for her son, Paul, outside Plumstead police station in August 2007 on the second anniversary of his death

“I have campaigned for justice from the day Paul died. Losing a child is heartbreaking enough, but losing a child while they are in the care of the state gives an added dimension to the grief.

The inquest heard that five minutes after Paul was pronounced dead, one officer in the custody suite was heard saying, “You have to get one death in custody under your belt.”

When Paul was arrested he was suffering from excited delirium/acute behavioural disorder. But the police failed to identify it as a medical emergency.


The jury found that police training was completely inadequate.

Up to ten officers restrained Paul, making his medical condition worse. Medical experts agreed that the sooner Paul was taken to hospital the greater was his chance of survival.

Yet the police took him straight to Plumstead police station where there was no life saving equipment.

Video footage revealed officers laughing and joking, saying “You mean you’ve never heard of Paul Coker?” as he lay dying in a cell.

We are one of many families who had to fight to obtain justice at a time of bereavement. This is a long and difficult process, continually hindered by state agencies.

But our family attended the recent inquest each day hoping that, at least, a verdict of neglect would be given.

The coroner directed the jury towards a purely descriptive “narrative verdict” that would not apportion any blame.

But the jury was highly critical of the police and the medical treatment Paul received.

They found there was no communication between the police and the Forensic Medical Examiner (FME).


Jurors were critical of the FME, who treated the minor injuries of the police officers first before examining Paul. The jury concluded that the FME failed to carry out a timely and adequate assessment of Paul’s condition.

It is outrageous that the police prevented a doctor from entering Paul’s cell as he lay dying.

During the hearing I found the majority of the police uncaring and cold. Even now they showed no remorse for their actions.

The coroner said to one police officer, after they had responded to simple questions about Paul’s death by saying they could not remember: “When do you think you are going to start remembering?”

The coroner will make a number of recommendations.

These should be robust enough to prevent further tragedies. But we are not hopeful.

There is an institutional bias inherent in the system. Major reforms are necessary or the families that have lost loved ones while in the care of the state will continue to be marginalised.”

  • Paul Coker died at Plumstead police station, south east London, in August 2005. Police had arrested him after a disturbance at his girlfriend’s home.
  • The charity Inquest says that from 2005 to 2009 over 300 people died in police custody or following other contact with police. Around 50 were of black or minority ethnic origin.

For more information about the Justice for Paul Coker Campaign, go to »

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Article information

Tue 9 Mar 2010, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2192
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