Cops cleared of blame for death of Cleland man in custody

Steven Chesney
Steven Chesney

A massive cocaine overdose killed a Cleland man who became ill in custody at Motherwell police station.

Now a sheriff has cleared police officers of any blame following a fatal accident inquiry.

A pathologist told the inquiry the amount of cocaine taken by Steven Chesney was the highest she’d ever seen.

Sheriff Douglas Brown recorded that Mr Chesney died of cocaine intoxication and rejected a suggestion by the dead man’s family that officers were negligent in not getting him to hospital sooner.

Sheriff Brown stated: “It appeared fairly obvious from the evidence that, given the exceptionally high dose of cocaine and the difficulty in treating cocaine intoxication, there was no realistic possibility of survival.”

Father-of-one Mr Chesney (33) became ill after officers detained him for brandishing a machete near his home in Biggar Road.

Consultant forensic pathologist Dr Julia Bell told the inquiry: “In ten years of doing drug-related post-mortem examinations this was the highest level of cocaine I’ve seen. It was exceptionally high.

“Cocaine is most commonly snorted, but Mr Chesney might just have swallowed it to get to that level.”

Professor Michael Eddleston, a renowned expert on clinical toxicology, said it was unlikely that Mr Chesney would have been saved had he been taken to hospital sooner.

The inquiry heard he was arrested near his home shortly before 6am on May 1, 2016, and taken to Motherwell police station. Police officers said he was fine until they arrived at the police station.

Professor Eddleston said that, from viewing CCTV, it was clear the prisoner “did not look well” when he got to the police station.

Procurator Fiscal Eileen Beadsworth asked him if Mr Chesney could have been saved had he been taken directly to hospital.

Professor Eddleston replied: “It’s very unlikely. I’ve never seen such a concentration of cocaine in a living patient, just two or three times in people who were dead.

“I can’t imagine he would have survived. It was quite remarkable that such a high level of cocaine was still there eight days after his death.”

The inquiry was told that Mr Chesney had begged for medical help as officers brought him into the police station.

A sound expert claimed to hear him mumbling on CCTV that he was ill. He appeared to be having a seizure, but was told repeatedly by officers to ‘calm down’.

The CCTV showed him struggling to stay on his feet as he was being taken from the station car park into the custody area.

In the CCTV footage an officer could be heard repeatedly telling Mr Chesney to “calm yourself down” and asking “What are you up to?”

Officers could also be heard discussing the circumstances of his arrest and what he was being charged with.

The inquiry heard that the custody sergeant then decided Mr Chesney was in such a state he should be taken to hospital.

He died there at 7.12am, just over an hour after his arrest.