A man who overdosed and died in police custody may have taken cocaine in his cell, an inquest heard yesterday.
Istiak Yusuf was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in the early hours of June 13 last year, but within a couple of hours of being detained at Luton Police Station he was taken ill and died.
Yesterday a five-day inquest into the 25-year-old’s death was opened, during which it was heard that Mr Yusuf’s cause of death has been confirmed as cocaine, MDMA and alcohol toxicity.
Over the last year the incident has been probed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission to establish whether or not police officers sufficiently searched Mr Yusuf for substances at the time of his detainment.
During the first day of the inquest it was heard that the night before his death Mr Yusuf had been out drinking with friends and in the early hours of June 13 he stopped by Purley Centre, Luton, to visit his ex-partner Naomi Smiley.
Miss Smiley later called police from her mother’s address to report an allegation that Mr Yusuf had grabbed her round the neck and beaten her.
One of the two officers who visited Miss Smiley was Sgt John Middleton, who told the hearing that he found the alleged victim “very upset”.
Sgt Middleton said that in the course of speaking to Miss Smiley and her mother the latter told him that Mr Yusuf was “coked up”, but admitted that she had not seen him taking drugs.
Along with another officer Sgt Middleton then drove to Purley Centre, where Mr Yusuf let them into Miss Smiley’s flat.
Sgt Middleton said: “He was not thrilled we were there but seemed to accept why and the fact that that he was being arrested.
“He spoke quite normally and had a reasonable discussion with PC Bayliss.”
At that point Sgt Middleton began searching the flat for keys which Miss Smiley had asked him to retrieve fromMr Yusuf.
Sgt Middleton said: “Looking for the keys seemed to inflame him.
“He called me a ‘smart arse’ then started to make peculiar comments about having grenades and C4 and if he could get to his phone he would be able to blow us up.”
Despite this Sgt Middleton said that Mr Yusuf was “calm and collected” and told both officers that though he had previously had a drug abuse problem he had not taken any substances in the course of the night.
Sgt Middleton added: “He said he had been out the majority of the night but I would have only determined him as quite sober, his eyes were not glazed, he was not unsteady and he was speaking like youor I would.
“There was nothing about his eyes that gave me an indication he had taken anything.”
The hearing was told that Mr Yusuf was not searched at the flat and before he was cuffed he asked to change from his cargo shorts into jeans.
The request was rejected by officers but the jeans were taken to the police station in a bag with other belongings.
Shortly after, Sgt Middleton and his colleague were joined by PCs who transported Mr Yusuf to Luton Police Station.
Fiona Murphy, representing the Yusuf family, asked Sgt Middleton if he mentioned to the PCs that there was a claim that Mr Yusuf was “coked up”.
Sgt Middleton said: “We mentioned he had been out the night before but I don’t remember mentioning he was ‘coked up’
“It was something that had not been seen and was done in the past.
“There was nothing about him that was of any concern at all.”
When pressed further Sgt Middleton added Mr Yusuf’s previous history of drug abuse was a ‘small part’ in what was considered to be a domestic abuse case.
He said: “What happened was tragic but it wasn’t the focus at the time.”
In a statement Mr Yusuf’s family said they hope the inquest will shed light on the circumstances of his death.
His mother Syeda said: “Istiak’s death has left us heart broken.
“We would not wish for anyone to go through what we are going through having lost our son and brother.
“We just want to know what happened to Istiak and how he came to die in the care of the police”.
Deborah Coles, director of charitable organisation INQUEST, added: “Having made a decision that Mr Yusuf was in need of regular observations and placed in a CCTV monitored cell for his protection there now needs to be a thorough examination of the adequacy of those checks and whether this tragic death could have been avoided”.
The inquest is scheduled to conclude on Tuesday.