Special constable’s upset at inquest

Leonard McCourt.
Leonard McCourt.
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A SPECIAL constable choked back tears as she recalled the moment she feared attack from a man who later died in police custody.

SC Jeanette Horlock told an inquest jury she thought Leonard McCourt was going to “drag my head through the window” as the 44-year-old approached the police car in which she was sitting.

The jury heard from eight civilian witnesses who said Mr McCourt did not act in a threatening way during his encounter with police outside his home in Ash Crescent, Seaham, in September 2010.

Three police officers told the jury Mr McCourt, 44, was shouting, abusive and aimed a punch at one of them.

“I tried to calm Mr McCourt,” said SC Horlock. “He swore at me and told me to shut my cake hole.

“I was frightened. He was close enough to the window for me to think he was going to put his arm through and rip my head out of the car.

“I turned away from the window. I was panicking and looking for a button to put the window up.

“Mr McCourt seemed aggressive, full of rage and angry.”

The inquest at Crook Civic Centre was told one of the officers pressed the panic button on his radio to tell the control room he was in need of urgent assistance.

Mr McCourt was pepper sprayed twice by Pc Terry Hill before he and Pc Richard Clark put the handcuffs on him.

Several witnesses told the inquest Pc Clark appeared to make a friendly “high five” gesture to Mr McCourt.

“I did not,” said Pc Clark.

“He threw a punch at me and I fended it off by swinging my left arm outstretched in an arc in front of me.

“It is possible the witnesses mistook this gesture for a high five.”

Witnesses told the inquest the two officers dragged Mr McCourt to the police van, and at one point he appeared to slump as if losing consciousness, but Pc Clark said he believes the dad of two let his legs go limp.

Mr McCourt was declared dead at Peterlee police station.

Two pathologists told the hearing he died from heart failure, but they could not say when he died.