A NOTORIOUS tearaway choked on a heroin-filled condom as police officers accused him of "play-acting", an inquest heard.

But yesterday, after an eight-day hearing, a jury decided that the death of 18-year-old Gareth Brogden - once dubbed Balaclava Boy - was an accident, not contributed to by police.

The court heard that the teenager had deliberately swallowed the drugs, probably to conceal them on his arrest.

After the Hartlepool inquest, his mother, Gillian Pell, said she was "unhappy with the circumstances" surrounding her son's death.

"I believe something could and should have been done for Gareth which might have saved his life," she said.

After the jury returned a verdict of accidental death, Coroner Malcolm Donnelly said he had "considerable concerns" that Gareth had been placed unaccompanied in the rear of a police van while still handcuffed on his way to hospital.

Gareth first became known to millions of nationwide when, aged only 11, he was recorded by a TV crew filming the aftermath of a joyriding crash. Masked, he bragged that he had been driving a stolen car when it crashed.

On Valentine's Day last year, the teenager, who had a string of convictions for burglary, theft and taking cars, was arrested by officers investigating another road accident.

On his arrest, outside his home in Annandale Crescent, Hartlepool, Gareth was seen by officers putting something into his mouth.

He was taken to the town's police station where he began to choke on the condom. At first he was accused of play-acting, but he was then rushed to hospital. Gareth was placed on a life support machine but died 15 days later.

A post-mortem examination revealed the teenager had consumed heroin, cannabis and possibly tranquillisers before his arrest.

After the hearing, Chief Superintendent John Burke offered sympathy to Gareth's family and said there had been changes to procedures in relation to prisoners taken to hospital. A decision has yet to be made on whether officers will face disciplinary hearings.