The family of a 26-year-old man who died days after being held in a state-of-the-art police custody centre in Leeds say they are desperate to find out the truth about what happened to him while in detention.
Robert Ward died in hospital in October two weeks after being found unconscious at a flat near his home in Seacroft. His family were told he had suffered severe brain damage.
On October 9, the day before he was rushed to hospital, he was bailed by a court having been transferred from custody at West Yorkshire Police’s £34 million district base at Elland Road. He had been charged with harassment and obstructing a police officer.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission are looking into what happened after he was arrested on October 7 and say that while in custody at Elland Road the unemployed Mr Ward “swallowed unknown substances on three separate occasions”.
His death on October 26 is the third time in less than six months that someone has died after being detained at Elland Road, which opened in April. The IPCC is looking into whether there are any common themes across the deaths.
The IPCC say an officer working at Elland Road has now been served with a misconduct notice, which means his conduct is under investigation. It is not examining whether Mr Ward taking substances while in custody contributed to his death.
Mr Ward, who had been “in and out of trouble with the police for years,” according to his father, was twice taken to hospital while in custody, where he was examined and treated before being returned to Elland Road.
His “heartbroken” family are angry that he was able to obtain and swallow tablets in custody on three occasions.
They also want to find out what happened between him leaving court and being found unconscious. It is feared he may have taken drugs after leaving court.
His mother Liz Dimmock said: “I just want the investigation to be as thorough as it can be, because there are a lot of circumstances that need to be investigated fully.
“We are wondering whether the truth will come out and whether people will tell the truth. We need the truth and Robert deserves the truth.”
In a family statement released by Mr Ward’s parents Bob Ward and Liz Dimmock, Mr Ward was described as “one in a million”.
The statement said: “A loving son, Robert was full of life, he had a great personality, was funny, good sense of humour, was also generous, loving and polite, would do anything for anyone.
“He was also very private and kept his personal life from his family, kept a lot of his business to himself. He was a loving dad to his son and daughter. He gave everyone a lot to remember.
“A good friend to many, will never be forgotten. His brothers and sisters miss him so much, as do his dad and I. We are heartbroken by this tragic loss, life will never be the same again. He was our world.”
Mr Ward’s family said they wanted to hear from anyone who saw police arresting him on October 7 in Gipton, as they have been told witnesses have footage of him being pinned down by police.
The watchdog is also looking into two other cases where someone died after being detained at Elland Road. They are Ethaniel Butler, 22, an electrical engineer who died on July 5, and Adam Rice, 46, who died on May 12.
Chief Superintendent Paul Money, Leeds District Commander for West Yorkshire Police, said the force was co-operating fully with the three probes.
He said: “Any death following police contact or in police custody is regrettable, and all such cases are referred to the IPCC so that they can conduct independent investigations and report their findings publicly.”