Custody death: Police officer pepper-sprayed Seaham man twice

Lenny McCourt who died in police custody.
Lenny McCourt who died in police custody.
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A POLICE officer said he pepper-sprayed a man who later died in custody because he swung a punch at a colleague.

Pc Terry Hill said he used his spray after Leonard McCourt attempted to punch Pc Richard Clark.

Both were called to Ash Crescent in Parkside, Seaham, in September 2010, following reports of a man trying to force his way into a house.

Pc Hill said Mr McCourt threw a punch at Pc Clark, described as a lazy swing over the top like a big haymaker and he warned him to get back or he would spray him.

The inquest at Crook Civic Centre told of an earlier confrontation between Mr McCourt, 44, and the officers inside his house when he threatened to take Pc Hill’s baton from him and have “a good roll about” with Pc Clark.

Pc Hill said Mr McCourt then appeared to calm down and the officers made their way outside and the father of two followed them minutes later.

“He came towards the vehicle I was in,” said Pc Hill.

“He said: ‘I’m Lenny McCourt and this is my street’.

“When I told him to calm down, he told me not to tell him what to do.”

The inquest heard the spray appeared to have little effect so Pc Hill sprayed him again, which had an impact.

Mr McCourt was handcuffed and taken to a van, offering what Pc Hill described as “passive resistance”.

The officer added: “He didn’t want to get into the cell area at the back of the van, so we put him in with his backside on the floor and lifted his legs on to the seat opposite.”

Mr McCourt was declared dead at Peterlee police station.

The officers were due to give evidence from behind screens and have their names withheld from media reports.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle lifted an anonymity order after representations from the press, including the Sunderland Echo and Mr McCourt’s family.

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho