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Man who died after arrest in a Newmarket supermarket told police he'd taken an ounce of cocaine

Suffolk Coroner's Court, Ipswich
Suffolk Coroner's Court, Ipswich

A suspected shoplifter arrested at a Newmarket supermarket died later the same day in hospital after telling police he had taken an ounce of cocaine.

An inquest jury at Ipswich heard that 29-year-old Lee Sparkes had been taken ill an hour after his arrest at the Tesco store in Fordham Road, on Christmas Eve, 2015.

Assistant Suffolk Coroner Jacqueline Devonish heard that up to 11 security officers, shop staff and members of the public, had been involved in restraining Mr Sparkes until police arrived and CCTV pictures of the incident were played to the jury.

Ms Devonish said people who had helped to restrain Mr Sparkes believed he may have taken either alcohol or drugs and despite initially denying that he had taken drugs, Mr Sparkes later told police that he had used an ounce of cocaine and had begun to feel unwell.

Efforts had been made to stop Mr Sparkes, of Icklingham, from leaving the store because he was suspected of having been involved in shoplifting days earlier. Paul Watts, night manager at Tesco, said the incident followed a shoplifting incident on December 22.

He said he wanted to have a ‘polite chat’ with Mr Sparkes with intention of banning him in line with store policy. However, a scuffle broke out, which led tostaff members, security officers and customers holding Mr Sparkes down until police arrived. He was arrested at 6.10pm and he died in hospital around 11pm after having a seizure.

Mr Watts said: “We were trying to hold him and restrain him. It took a number of us to hold him down. If we let him up we don’t know what might have happened. There was a package in his left pocket. He kept reaching for it. It was a struggle to hold on to that one arm.”

The hearing heard no drugs had been found on Mr Sparkes when he was searched.

Solicitor Owen Greenhall, representating the family, claimed Mr Sparkes was shouting: ‘Let me go, it’s Christmas’.”

The hearing continues.