Family express concern as inquest concludes into death of Nuno Cardoso following arrest by Thames Valley Police

Before HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire Darren Salter

Oxford Coroner's Court

8 - 17 July 2019

Nuno Cardoso died following arrest by Thames Valley Police in Oxford on 24 November 2017. The inquest concluded yesterday (17 July) with the jury reaching an uncritical narrative conclusion, despite the troubling evidence heard during the hearing. Nuno was one of five black men to die following use of force by police in the year 2017, the majority of which relate to the police's response to drug swallowing or consumption.

Nuno, from Kentish Town in London, was 25 years old and in the first year of a law course at Ruskin College in Oxford. His family describe him as a caring, charismatic and outgoing person, the life and soul of their home, who wherever he went would bring laughter.

Nuno was arrested at Ruskin College at approximately 4.50am on 24 November 2017, following reports of an altercation. Restraint and batons were used during the arrest. The inquest heard that Nuno was demonstrating signs of intoxication. In the body worn video recorded of the arrest, which was shown during the inquest, officers can be heard discussing the possibility that Nuno had something in his mouth. At this point Nuno was not properly communicating with the officers. One of the Ruskin College witnesses described Nuno as talking as though he had a mouth full of food. The officers told him that if he did not show them what was in his mouth that they would have to take him to hospital. Officers told the inquest that they ultimately did not believe he had anything in his mouth.

Police guidance at the time was that, if someone was believed or suspected to be packing drugs, they should be taken to hospital. However, Nuno was not taken to the hospital five or six minutes away, but instead was transported in a van to Abingdon Police Station, around 20 minutes away. Officers reported that, on the way to the police station, Nuno appeared to be chewing something, started to sweat and slumped in his seat. Police officers gave some first aid and the ambulance service was called. Nuno was then taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital and died later that day.

The jury reached a narrative conclusion which included that:

  • They accepted the police officers' evidence that they did not believe that Nuno had swallowed drugs or that he had anything in his mouth.
  • This was not a medical emergency until the situation rapidly changed when Nuno became unwell at approximately 5.20am.
  • Nuno died at 6.23pm from cardiorespiratory arrest caused by the combined drug intoxication caused by alcohol, cocaine and morphine (heroin).

You can find out further information about the inquest here. The statement issued by the family of Nuno Cardoso following the conclusion of the inquest can be found here.

Ruth Mellor of Saunders Law, who is representing the family, said: "The evidence heard over the course of this inquest has reinforced concerns about the police response to people in their care, as well as the action that they take when things go wrong. The jury saw footage of officers asking Nuno what he had in his mouth, discussing whether he had anything in his mouth, and telling him that they would have to take him to hospital if he did not open his mouth.  Despite this, Nuno was not taken to the hospital that was only five or six minutes away.

It is hugely concerning that officers who gave live evidence in this inquest said that they thought at some point that Nuno was faking - whether that was pretending to have something in his mouth or pretending to become unwell. The risks associated with swallowing or packing drugs are high, and if police officers do not take these situations seriously then families will continue to lose loved ones while they are in the custody of the police.

Before they wrote their initial accounts, the four key officers were told by their sergeant that they could talk amongst themselves, with no guidance as to what they could and could not talk about. Poor post incident management such as this makes it especially difficult for families to have faith in IOPC and Coronial investigations."

At Saunders Law, we offer expert legal assistance and representation in inquests and inquiries into non-natural deaths. We're well-known for our inquest work and thorough approach to complex cases.

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