THE FAMILY of a grandfather who died in police custody today spoke of their relief at the truth finally emerging at an inquest into his death – that he had died while being transported in a police van.

Relatives spoke after members of a jury said they believed Lenny McCourt, who had been pepper sprayed during his arrest, died in transit on the short journey between his home in Ash Crescent, in Seaham and Peterlee Police Station, County Durham.

Mr McCourt’s sister-in-law Tracey McCourt, speaking on behalf of the family following the 11-day hearing in Crook, said: “They are the best words that could have been said. Because it is what we have always believed – that Lenny died in the police van.

“We feel the truth has come out. All the issues that concerned us have been covered. We are now awaiting police disciplinary hearings.”

Durham Police has confirmed four officers are to face misconduct proceedings.

Mrs McCourt said: “Lenny spent about 25 minutes in the care of Durham Constabulary and went from “fighting fit” to dead. No-one should have to die in order for policies to change.”

Delivering their narrative verdict following four-and-a-half hours of deliberation, the jury said when the 44-year-old arrived at the police station he did not get any basic life support for several minutes.

The hearing had earlier been shown CCTV footage of paramedics fighting for 20 minutes to revive Mr McCourt, helped by a police officer.

County Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle said: “I don’t think anyone who saw the footage of Peterlee Police Station could not be moved by the fact that for what seemed an eternity little seemed to be done.”

He added: “I found it distressing to see officers standing with their hands on their hips for what I thought was a considerable period of time – inappropriate at the time, in my view.”

The inquest was told two police officers and a special constable had responded to a 999 call from a member of the public reported a disturbance at Ash Crescent on September 11, 2010.

Having resolved the situation and established that Mr McCourt was in his own property, officers left his house.

The jury said: “Shortly after, Mr McCourt approached the marked police car, where a confrontation ensued.

“Mr McCourt was pepper sprayed twice and following a struggle he was handcuffed to the rear.”

They added: “Following some resistance from Mr McCourt, officers forcibly placed him on the floor (of the van) and not the seat.”

On the way to Peterlee Police Station, Mr McCourt went quiet and there was no interaction between him and the officers.

Mr Tweddle, who will be writing to Durham Police raising concerns about police training and other issues, noted officers had not followed procedure stipulating that anyone who has been pepper sprayed should be closely supervised.

The jury returned a verdict of misadventure and ruled that Mr McCourt’s death was caused by a combination of factors, including heart problems, the effects of alcohol and physical stress.

A Durham Police spokesman said: “The formal verdict recognises that the officers involved acted lawfully throughout this incident.

"There is no doubt there are lessons to be learned from Mr McCourt’s death.

“We have carried out a review of our policies and procedures relating to the safe transportation and detention of people taken into custody.

“We’ve also looked at our processes for ensuring all relevant officers and staff continue to receive appropriate first aid training and refreshers.

"Any issues identified in these reviews, and the comments of the coroner, will be addressed in due course.

"We will also implement the recommendation of the IPCC that the four principal officers involved in the incident leading to the arrest and death of Mr McCourt will be subject to misconduct proceedings.”