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Coroner told of delays in examining dying man

PUBLISHED: 12:37 11 February 2010 | UPDATED: 17:36 25 August 2010

DEATH in custody: Paul Coker.

DEATH in custody: Paul Coker.

A DOCTOR who was called to a police station to see if a dying man was fit to be detained told an inquest I was letting him cool down before examining him. Forensic medical examiner (FME) Dr Neil Santamaria was called at 5.30am to Plumstead Police Stat

A DOCTOR who was called to a police station to see if a dying man was fit to be detained told an inquest "I was letting him cool down" before examining him.

Forensic medical examiner (FME) Dr Neil Santamaria was called at 5.30am to Plumstead Police Station to examine Paul Coker, 32, on August 6, 2005, who had been arrested on suspicion of breaching the peace.

The doctor told Coroner Selina Lynch at Southwark Coroners Court on Monday that police officers only told him that the prisoner was on cocaine and violent.

He claimed he was not informed Mr Coaker was acting irrationally and showed signs of a possible overdose. It is for this reason Dr Santamaria opted to examine officers injured during the arrest before visiting the dying man.

He told the jury: "There was no indication of a medical emergency at that time.

"Given what I was told about violence - it is my practise to let the prisoners cool down. You can't communicate. It is futile. They do not answer any questions. You can't get any cooperation."

An officer can be heard on the CCTV telling the doctor that Mr Coker has asked for four glasses of water and was still asking for more.

The coroner said: "If he needed time to calm down, he certainly had it."

Dr Santamaria responded: "He was still moving around."

He denied there was pressure to see the officers first as their shift was ending.

When the doctor went to the cell an officer told him not to go in because Mr Coker was "potentially violent".

Mr Coker was lying on the floor face down, writhing, when the doctor shouted out to him through the wicket for four minutes.

He advised officers to keep a constant watch but said he had no concerns about positional asphyxia and did not think he was unconscious.

Paramedics arrived 17 minutes after being called but officers kept them waiting for about five minutes before entering the cell, in order for more officers to arrive.

At 6.39am the paramedics turned Mr Coker from his front onto his back and asked "what time did he get here?"

There is a delay of approximately a minute before paramedics start CPR, which lasted for approximately 30 seconds at which time Dr Santamaria was standing by the cell door. At 6.45am Mr Coker was pronounced dead.

The inquest continues.


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