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Alcohol withdrawal theory over man's custody death.

A MAN found dead in police custody after being arrested for drunkeness may have died from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, an inquest heard yesterday.

David Roberts was found slumped on his seat in a Reliance transit van when it arrived at Haverfordwest Magistrates' Court in March. Reliance Custodial Services transports prisoners on behalf of the police.

The 53-year-old father of four, of no fixed abode, had been arrested 16 hours earlier for being drunk and incapable, lying in a street in the Pembroke area.

An inquest held yesterday at the Shire Hall in Haverfordwest - where he died - heard that he had last been seen alive on Monday March 25 by Reliance custody officer Michael Price from Swansea, just minutes before death.

Home Office Pathologist Dr Andrew Davidson, who carried out a post-mortem examination, said there were no signs of restraint or defence-type injuries on the body. He said Mr Roberts had a history of two previous alcohol withdrawal fits and may have been in withdrawal from alcohol at the time of his death.

``It seems to me likely that Mr Roberts died as a result of chronic alcohol abuse either from a terminal fit or primary cardiac arrest.''

However, he said the cause of death was uncertain.

Mr Price earlier told the inquest that it was company policy to check on all transported prisoners every 15 minutes and said Mr Roberts had seemed OK during his last journey. He had last checked on him just minutes before his death at Haverfordwest police station, where the van picked up two prisoners.

``I spoke to him and he just grunted,'' he said. Around eight minutes later when the van parked at the court house garage the former soldier was found by Mr Price's Reliance colleague Bryn Allsop slumped forward on his seat.

``Bryn said, `Mike we have a problem, I think Mr Roberts is dead','' Mr Price said. ``I was a bit shocked and tried to get a pulse.'' Attempts to revive Mr Roberts failed. He was taken to nearby Withybush Hospital and pronounced dead.

Fellow prisoner Gareth Edwards, who boarded the van at Haverfordwest police station, had asked custody officers who else was in the van and was told ``Dai the Can'' - a local nickname.

``I've known him for about five years. I told him I had three bottles of sherry on my property. He liked his sherry,'' he said. He said Mr Roberts, who would normally laugh or shout back, did not reply. Earlier Detective Inspector Lyn Harries based at Haverfordwest said Mr Roberts had been examined by police doctor June Thomas, who declared him fit to be detained and interviewed, when he was taken to Pembroke Dock police station.

After being charged he was kept in custody overnight before taken by Reliance to Haverfordwest and a court appearance.

Forensic toxicologist Dr John Taylor said that at the time of death Mr Roberts had not been under the influence of alcohol, with only 13milligrams per 100 millilitres of alcohol in his blood. But at the time of arrest he had a probable value of around 313 milligrams - normally associated with extreme drunkeness. The jury returned a verdict of death by natural causes.

Afterwards Mr Roberts' daughter Lisa said the family was not happy at the verdict. ``He was a good hard worker, a knowledgeable man who loved life in general,'' she said.

``His downfall was alcohol.''


LOYAL DAUGHTER: Lisa Roberts, leaving the inquest
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 23, 2002
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