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Icklingham man Lee Sparkes may not have been adequately searched for drugs before death

An inquest jury has concluded that a man who died after being arrested at a supermarket for suspected shoplifting may not have been adequately searched for drugs by police.

Lee Sparkes, 29, was detained by security staff, other workers and members of the public at Tesco, in Fordham Road, Newmarket, on Christmas Eve, 2015.

Mr Sparkes, of West Street, Icklingham, was taken to Bury St Edmunds Police Investigation Unit but became ill and was taken to West Suffolk Hospital in a police van.

Suffolk Coroners' Court
Suffolk Coroners' Court

Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Mr Sparkes suffered a seizure and was moved to the resuscitation unit where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful and he died.

Before his death, Mr Sparkes had told police officers that he had swallowed an ounce of cocaine.

The inquest at Suffolk Coroners’ Court, in Ipswich, heard that people who had been involved in detaining Mr Sparkes at Tesco had reported that he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Mr Sparkes had been searched both at the store and the police investigation unit, but no drugs were found.

The inquest jury concluded that Mr Sparkes had swallowed cocaine to avoid being arrested for possession of an illegal substance which led to his death from cocaine toxicity.

The conclusion recorded by the jury was that Mr Sparkes had died as a result of misadventure, possibly due to a failure to share information by a police officer at the scene to colleagues that he was in possession of a drugs package.

Suffolk Area Coroner Jacqueline Devonish recorded that this may have led to an inadequate search of Mr Sparkes to locate the package.

Suffolk Constabulary said: “As a force, we continuously review our procedures to make sure we provide the best quality service to the public and ensure that our procedures are fully compliant. Where we could have done things better, we will look to learn from those cases and, where appropriate, make suitable changes.”

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