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Who was Leon Patterson?

Leon Patterson (23 December 1960 - November 27, 1992) was a 31-year-old man who lived in north London.

What happened?

On 21 November 1992, Patterson was arrested on suspicion of theft from a BHS department store and was taken to Stockport police station by officers from Greater Manchester Police. On arrival he told police he was a heroin user and complained of feeling unwell and suffering withdrawal symptoms, which included vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. The police searched his name in the Police National Computer that falsely told them that he was an escapee. He had in fact failed to return to prison from home leave but this false information affected police perception of him and they are believed to have suspected that his “symptoms” were part a strategy to aid in his escape.  1 of the 3 police doctors who saw him backed up this claim by writing this conclusion on his custody record. The first police doctor who saw him treated his nausea and vomiting with Stemetil, a drug that the manufacturer says can cause neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition.


Patterson was due to attend court on 26 November by which time his condition had worsened. At 5.00 a.m. he was found in his cell naked, collapsed and unconscious. A police doctor was called and found him conscious but mumbling incoherently. By 8.30 a.m., despite the fact that his condition had not improved, the police made a decision that he should attend court and he was placed, still naked and with his hands handcuffed behind his back, on the floor of a police van in which he was taken to court. He was placed face down and naked on the floor of a cell at the court. His solicitor requested that Leon be taken to the local hospital but this request was ignored.  A decision was made that he was not fit to attend the court and he was again placed naked and handcuffed on the floor of the police van and was taken to Denton police station five miles away.


A doctor was called on arrival at Denton and he arrived at the police station three hours later and he spent three or four minutes with Leon but he did not complete his examination because he stated that he found Leon “uncooperative”. He left Leon lying naked on a cold stone floor and recommended that he be taken to Strangeways Prison Hospital. When he learned later that evening that this would not be possible he neither visited nor made any recommendation that Patterson be taken to another hospital. At the inquest this doctor confirmed that he had failed to notice over thirty wounds to Patterson’s body (he stated that he saw wounds only to the face and head) that twelve other witnesses testified they had seen that day. The Coroner confessed himself “amazed” that a police doctor called to see a man who had spent the day lying naked on a concrete floor moaning and incoherent left him to remain in that condition without even suggesting that he be covered with a blanket or given a mattress. During the rest of the day his condition deteriorated and he suffered incontinence but was left by the police naked and injured on a bare stone floor lying in his own feces. 

Later that evening he was found dead in his cell. He was naked and foaming at the mouth. His blood covered the walls, and his skull fractured. After six days in custody it was only after death that he was finally given a mattress and a blanket.

What was the legal implication?

In February 1993 the first inquest into Leon's death was stopped due to biases with the juror and in April 1993 at the second inquest, what was originally claimed to be the cause of death was thrown into doubt when the Home Office toxicologist admitted in court that he had faked his report that `proved` Leon had died from an overdose of nitrazepam (mogadon). The evidence heard by the jury at this inquest about Leon's treatment by police officers and police doctors led them to return a verdict of `unlawful killing', but with the cause of death as unascertainable. However because of legal misdirection by the Coroner, that verdict was overturned in the High Court in October 1994 after a successful joint application by lawyers acting for the police and police doctors. 

Leon’s family still do not know what caused his death. Legal aid was not available for families to be represented at inquests despite the fact that unlimited public funds are available for lawyers to represent the police and professional funds enable the police doctors to be represented. The Lord Chancellor was written to personally, to request legal aid be granted in this case as there is provision for legal aid in ‘exceptional cases’. Disgracefully this was refused and argued that this was not in his view an exceptional case.

INQUEST arranged for senior barrister Terry Munyard to represent the family for free. However if it was not for his generosity Leon’s family would be unrepresented and alone. To add, further to the injustices faced by his family they were  told that there are 13 new witnesses to be called at this inquest including police officers and new medical evidence. Despite the fact that the Police Complaints Authority have supported calls for this evidence to be disclosed before the inquest, neither the police nor the coroner have done so which means the family barrister is unable to prepare on an equal footing with other parties.

Deborah Coles, Co Director of INQUEST who have been supporting Leon’s family said: “It is an outrage that Leon Patterson's family have had to wait so long for this inquest to be heard and are still waiting to discover the truth and who is accountable for the inhuman and degrading treatment Leon received while under the care of the police and police doctors. The failure to establish the true circumstances about his death and the lack of rights for families demonstrates the lamentable failings of current investigatory mechanisms into deaths in custody. “

Further information.

If you want to find out more about  other victims of police and state violence in the UK, click here.

The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where use of force is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody.

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