Manhandled and left to die face-down on a police cell floor
Contributions from William McDonnell & 4WardEver UK
published: 6th October 2006
News updates listed at the foot of this item
John was taken to a police station rather than a hospital after suffering seizures at the home of his parents on 27th March 2003, and where earlier an ambulance crew refused to treat him and called in police officers for ‘assistance’. It is alleged that John had sustained injuries during his arrest, including banging his head on a concrete floor whilst being taken from the police van. John died of cocaine poisoning after being dragged into a police cell and left face down on the floor.
He was only monitored by an officer via CCTV, and was found dead by a police appointed doctor 20 minutes after his arrival at the police station in Scarborough.
The following account was provided by William McDonnell, the father of John McDonnell, and is shown with his consent. It is the family’s account of what happened to John in the hours before his death, and the failure in care that they believe contributed to his death.
I heard a bump from upstairs and Annie (John’s mother) went to see what had happened and found John lying on the floor between the bed and the wardrobe. Annie shouted down to me to call an ambulance for John and to say that it was needed quickly because John was having a fit.
I called for the ambulance and went upstairs and found John laying on his front and noted he was having breathing difficulties and was concerned about how long the ambulance would take to get here.
I kept going upstairs and downstairs but because of my disability I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t help my wife enough with John, who by this time was getting worse with his breathing and spasmodic movements.
John was asking us to help him and was saying sorry for what was happening to him, and sorry for what he was doing.
Eventually the ambulance arrived and I had to answer the door to them. One [of the crew] came in and stood at the bottom of the stairs but did not go to see John at all. He thought [John] was being violent, but he wasn’t, he was fitting. The ambulance man went out to his [crewmates] and stood at the end of the drive by the ambulance.
I called to them to come and help but they refused and stated that they were waiting for the police. I said “I want f***ing help not the police for f**ks sake come and help,” but they refused and stated [again] that they were waiting for the police.
I went upstairs again to see what the situation was with John and my wife. We both tried to get John on his feet in order to get him downstairs so that he could go in the ambulance, but his spasms were too strong for me and my wife, so I went downstairs again and called for the ambulance staff to come and help but again they refused.
William went on to say that the ambulance crew advised him to “leave him [John] on his own in a room.” I saw that our dog was in a bit of a state so I picked her up and took her away from what was going on.
I am a bit confused here as to what went on next. I don’t remember the police coming in but saw my son laying face down on the floor in the living room with the police holding him down and pulling his arms behind his back, and noticed he was handcuffed.
I asked them what they were doing and said “what are you putting those f***ing handcuffs on for, he needs treatment not f***ing handcuffs.” One policeman only gave me a dirty look but did not say anything. In all this time I don’t think anyone said a word or asked any questions regarding the state of John. They never even asked if we were his parents, or whatever?
“I can remember the police standing John up and asking him whether he was alright, John mumbled something like ‘alright’. They took John out, and as they were going they said that they were taking him to Scarborough and I thought they meant the hospital. We were in a hurry to get dressed so that we could follow them to the hospital and did not notice whether John was in the ambulance or the police vehicle.
“We arrived at the hospital within 20 minutes to half an hour later but John was not there. We expected him to be having treatment. We waited there while Annie had treatment to her eye.
“At about 3am Sunday morning two police sergeants arrived and informed us that John had been taken to the police station and had passed away there”.
Press release from INQUEST
Inquest opens into custody death
9 January 2006