Grandad’s family continue to fight for change to prevent more deaths in custody

Lenny McCourt, who died seven years ago in police custody.
Lenny McCourt, who died seven years ago in police custody.

The family of a grandfather who died in police custody hope a national review will see other tragedies prevented.

Lenny McCourt, 44, died in the back of a police van as he was being transported from his home in Ash Crescent, Seaham, to Peterlee police station in September 2010.

Tracey McCourt, sister-in-law of Lenny McCourt, has fought for change in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Tracey McCourt, sister-in-law of Lenny McCourt, has fought for change in the aftermath of the tragedy.

He had been sprayed with an incapacitant and handcuffed.

An inquest heard he most likely died after suffering heart failure, yet it took five minutes after arriving at Peterlee to remove his cuffs and attempt to revive him.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle ruled officers failed to provide adequate first aid, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) reviewing its practices in the wake of the case.

Now another review into deaths in custody has been carried out with the help of Mr McCourt’s family and others.

We still think about him and miss him every day.

Tracey McCourt

It proposes 110 recommendations, with drying out centres for those under the influence and the introduction of CCTV in police vans to allow monitoring of restrained detainees among suggestions.

The inquiry, led by Dame Elish Angiolini, was commissioned by then Home Secretary Theresa May in July 2015 after she met bereaved families.

In response to the findings, the Government says it is committed to reviewing existing guidance so that the starting presumption is legal aid should be awarded to bereaved relatives at an inquest following a suspicious death or suicide in police custody or in prison.

From December, police cells will not be used as “places of safety” for under-18s detained under the Mental Health Act.

Lenny left children Toni, now 31, and Launzie, now 27, as well as four brothers and two sisters, but never got to meet two of his three grandchildren.

His sister-in-law Tracey, 51, who is married to Gene, 54, said: “We still think about him and miss him every day.

“He was a lovely lad and he was such a character with such a good sense of humour.

“He loved his family and Toni and Launzie are without him.

“There are 110 recommendations and Dame Elish has gone in on them hard so we hope these recommendations are taken up, because something needs to be done, and there have already been 36 deaths in custody this year.

“Something needs to change.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said the Government is committed to tackling the issue and is clear deaths must be investigated thoroughly, as well as providing better support for families in future.