Dad wants answers over son's Pontypool police cell death

DISTRAUGHT FATHER: Mark Donovan

DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY: Lee Donovan

First published in News

A GRIEVING father is considering whether there are grounds for civil action against Gwent Police for what he claims were “systematic failings” in the run up to his son’s death.

Mark Donovan described his search for answers into his son Lee’s death in a cell at Pontypool police station as “four-and-a-half years of hell”.

“It has been horrendous, we’ve just had no answers,” said Mr Donovan, 46, of Chepstow Road, Newport.

His son was found dead on the bed in cell four at Pontypool police station in the early hours of April 26, 2008.

An inquest into Lee’s death returned a verdict of misadventure after the 23-year-old, who lived at the Solas hostel in Newport, was found with socks round his neck at 1.01am.

Mr Donovan is considering civil action against Gwent Police for what he claims are “systematic failings” in the run-up to his son’s death.

The inquest heard Lee Donovan was arrested in Newport at 10pm on April 25, 2008, after allegedly punching the wing mirror of a car.

He was taken to Pontypool police station and Mr Donovan told arresting officer PC Paul Goodwin he was a drug user on methadone and told PC Dominic Lonegran, who drove the police van, he had drunk around two litres of cider.

That information was never passed to custody officers, who observed he could walk and talk but was not fit for interview, the inquest heard.

Under guidelines, detainees should be checked at least every hour and every half hour if they are drunk or vulnerable.

The inquest heard Mr Donovan was checked in at 10.47pm before an officer saw him at 12.30am.

Mr Donovan Senior said he felt the system had let his son down as information about his methadone prescription and the fact he had been drinking was not passed on to other officers.

Despite expressing concern about informationsharing between officers, how quickly the police national computer database was updated and the training for making risk assessments, Gwent Coroner David Bowen said none of those factors caused Mr Donovan’s death.

Mr Donovan spoke of the family’s torment since his son’s death. “I had to go and ID his body.

“It was a horrible, cold experience because he was a crime scene and they wouldn’t let me near him.

“For most families, the funeral provides a bit of closure.

It is a time for you to grieve but it wasn’t closure for us. We couldn’t put a headstone on his grave in case his body needed to be exhumed.”

Mr Donovan, who has six other children, said he feels Gwent Police have failed to learn lessons from his son’s death.

He said he knows his son had his problems but described him as “happy-golucky”

and said he was trying to turn his life around for his four-year-old son.

He added: “It’s one of the things I find hardest to understand, why he might kill himself. I ask myself about it every day.

“To this day I still don’t know the reasons for my son’s death but I won’t give up. It is the last thing I can do for him as his dad.”

Enquiry found there had been mistakes

THE Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation found breaches of Police and Criminal Evidence regulations and irregularities in custody record-keeping by Gwent Police during Mr Donovan’s detention, but it did not contribute to his death.

The investigation found a police sergeant, police constable and a custody detention officer had not acted properly and there was a case to answer for misconduct.

Gwent Police decided a police constable be given management advice while the custody detention officer was given words of advice.

The police sergeant subsequently left the police service and misconduct sanctions could not be applied.

Recommendations over custody staff training and custody records were made to the force.

‘We have learnt the lessons’

A GWENT Police spokesman said: “Our sympathies remain with Mr Donovan’s family at this difficult time.

“Whilst the coroner’s findings and IPCC report make it clear Gwent Police actions on the night of Mr Donovan’s arrest did not contribute towards his death, we have ensured the lessons from this tragic incident have been learnt. We will fully examine any representations made on behalf of the family.”

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