Family of Seaham grandad pledge to keep pressure on in call for legal support for loved ones during inquest hearings
The family of a man who died in police custody say they will keep pushing for changes to ensure people like them get legal support during inquests.
Lenny McCourt, 44, of Ash Crescent, Seaham, died in September 2010 after falling ill following his arrest, having been sprayed with an incapacitant, handcuffed and taken in the back of a police van from his home to cells in Peterlee.
His inquest found it was likely he suffered heart failure, with officers taking five minutes to take off the cuffs and begin efforts to save him.
It led Durham Constabulary to make a series of improvements in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Before the hearing, his family were told they were not entitled to funded legal support, with a means test into the value of their property, vehicles and other items of worth with the view these could be sold to fund a lawyer.
This led Lenny’s sister-in-law Tracey to represent his relatives, with the cleaner faced with asking questions on their behalf and going up against legal representatives of others as they got their chance to find out what happened.
Since then the family has called for the Government to make changes, with Tracey recently supporting the daughter of Stephen Berry, from Easington Lane, as she attended her father’s inquest into the circumstances of his death after he was taken into custody at Washington Police Station in 2013.
Tracey, 54, and husband Gene, 57, have recently returned from a Ministry of Justice conference in London, where the charity Inquest asked them to share their experiences with delegates.
Tracey said: “There were five families asked to talk and when it came to it Gene just couldn’t speak, it was just too emotional for him.
“We are trying to make changes because we’ve got a situation where there’s no expense spared on one side and then families can’t have one lawyer unless they can pay and it just sets you off from a disadvantage.
“You’ve got limited options and you’re already going through the trauma of losing someone.”
Deputy coroner Derek Winter, who is Sunderland’s lead coroner, also addressed the conference.