John Leo O'Reilly (Leo to his friends) was a 64 year old Irishman who died on July
1994 following a period in custody at Little Park Police Station Coventry. Leo had
lived and worked in Coventry since 1962, he had no criminal record and had never
been in trouble with the police. On the evening of July 2nd 1994 Leo was baby- sitting
with his wife. He fell and banged his head hard on the hall floor. An ambulance was
called but instead of being taken to hospital Leo was arrested for being "drunk and
incapable". After 15 hours in custody, Leo was found shivering and lying in a pool
of his own urine and vomit. How could the police allow Leo to get into such a condition?
Was Leo stereotyped as a "drunken Irishman" when in fact he was suffering from a
serious head injury? What happened to Leo could happen to anyone who was held in
police custody. The Leo O'Reilly Support Group are committed to finding the truth
of what happened to Leo on the night he was taken into custody so that lessons can
be learnt and future tragedies of this nature prevented.
Why did it take three years? For the past three and a half years the Police, under the supervision of the Police
Complaints Authority (PCA), have investigated Leo's death. On the 2nd December 1997
the results of this investigation were released to the press before the family or
their solicitor were informed. This fact seems to be a reflection of the contempt
which the PCA and the police have shown for the family since the time Leo was arrested,
to his death, and up to the time of the two inquests. The report itself is a whitewash.
Four officers' were found to be responsible for serious breaches of the Police Criminal
Evidence Act and their own force's procedures. Yet there is to be no formal disciplinary
action taken against them. Instead the officers are to be admonished for failing
to record, in their log sheets, visits they claimed to have made to Leo's cell. During
this time they say Leo was well.
Who is telling the truth?
Sick man Referred to as HORRIBLE STINKING DRUNK
A police officer claimed at the first inquest that she checked Leo every 15 to 20
minutes and that at 1.15 am on July 3rd 1994 Leo had spoken to her. In the second
inquest Dr Chocksey the Neuro-surgeon who attended Leo said that given the nature
of his brain injuries this was a near physical impossibility. Somebody is clearly
not telling the truth and only an independent investigation into Leo's death can
establish who this is. An indication of the attitude shown to Leo was presented to
the second inquest when a tape recording revealed a Custody Sergeant had referred
to him as a "horrible stinking drunk". Yet these lies and insults are not deemed
serious enough to warrant formal disciplinary action. This should not be acceptable
to any of us! The PCA has demonstrated yet again that it is incapable of taking effective
action against the police. The family of Leo O'Reilly call upon the government to
replace the PCA with an effective and truly independent body which will treat callous
police malpractice of this type with the seriousness which it merits.
Could Leo have survived? Caroline Mitchell the PCA member responsible for releasing
the report said of Leo: "sadly it does not seem that he would have recovered even
if he had been taken to hospital earlier". Yet it is clear that Leo's condition was
allowed to deteriorate to an appalling level and that happened because he was in
police custody and not in the comfort of a hospital. Furthermore, the neuro surgeon
has said that Leo may have recovered had he been admitted to hospital while in a
good neurological condition. It is contemptible of the PCA to say Leo may have died
regardless of being in police custody, they do not know this to be true. Leo was
found 15 hours after being in custody and described by the paramedics who took him
to hospital, as being: "deeply unconscious - semi dressed, shaking and lying in a
pool of urine and vomit - his hair was matted with sick". The paramedics also found
that Leo registered a coma scale equivalent to that of a corpse. Both the police
and the PCA have failed to explain how Leo was allowed to reach these conditions.
The police officers on duty that night had a duty of care towards him which appears
to have been ignored. Clearly Leo's medical condition along with the environment
he was kept in was allowed to deteriorate by the police officers in charge.
Leo's family recently wrote to Tony Blair expressing their belief that the treatment
their dad received while in police custody was characterised by the most appalling
neglect and disregard for his dignity as a human being and "that no responsible professional
should have treated a sick man in the way in which they did. We believe" they write
"that the evidence proved beyond any doubt that the officers left our dad in that
cell and neither checked on him or cared about him throughout the night. They have
lied to cover up their own wrong-doing."
Why wasn't Leo's head iniury seen by the Police Surgeon? The police doctor was not
called to Leo until he had been in custody for over 11 hours. Leo's callous treatment
reveals the ineptitude of the police surgeon. When this doctor was asked why, after
a medical examination, he had not noticed Leo's head injury he gave the pathetic
excuse that the cell in which the examination took place was dimly lit. The officers
in charge, he said, had told him to examine Leo in the cells rather than in the well
lit medical room. The Police Surgeon should have acted independently and moved Leo
to the purpose built medical room rather than examine him in the cell. Furthermore,
this doctor had not even heard of the Glasgow Coma Scale which the paramedics and
other doctors have said was the accepted way of finding out if someone had suffered
from a head injury. Only an independent investigation will discover why this doctor
had not heard of the Glasgow Coma Scale, and why he did not move Leo to the well
lit medical room where a proper examination would have revealed Leo's injuries sooner.
this justice? The first inquest was over in eight hours. The police were represented
by expensive solicitors and barristers while the family had to rely on the free service
given by a well meaning but inexperienced local solicitor. The family's current legal
representatives believe the first inquest was "conducted entirely for the convenience
of the police and presented a biased and incomplete picture to the jury." At the
time of Leo's death up to his first inquest stories were given to the local press
which said Leo was drunk when he was arrested. The second inquest established that
alcohol played no part in Leo's death. Tests showed there was no alcohol found in
Were documents altered? The second inquest was ordered after a High Court
judicial review found that, the first left too many unanswered questions and criticised
the original Coroner for failing to let the family examine the original documents
pertaining to Leo's time in custody. At this inquest the family learned that the
West Midlands Police had lost all of these original documents and only certain photocopies
were available. The original documents may be vital to uncovering what really happened
to Leo. Four members of the O'Reilly family were shown the original custody record
shortly after their father was taken into hospital. They are convinced it said Leo
was "unable to communicate". Police witnesses have said Leo was sitting up talking.
The words "unable to communicate" were not on the photocopies of the charge sheet
shown at the inquest. Were documents altered? Release All Documents Now! The original
documents were found some time after the second inquest. Yet the family's solicitor
has only been allowed to see a selection of them. They must be allowed to see all
of the documents relating to Leo's time in custody and examine them with an independent
ESNA test. This will be the only way to reassure the O'Reilly family that the truth
has been revealed. Leo's family are determined to find the truth of what happened
to Leo during his time in custody so that lessons can be learnt and other deaths
in custody prevented from happening. The police have been represented in court and
at inquests by expensive barristers while the family's solicitors have given their
services largely free of charge.
The Leo O'Reilly Support Group believe: * John O'Reilly was subject to the most appalling
neglect while in police custody that resulted in his death. * Was sterotyped as a
drunken Irish man. * That the police throughout the inquiry have tried to cover up
their neglect. * That the PCA supervised police inquiry does not constitute a proper
investigation into Leo's death.
The Support Group therefore demands: 1. That the police
hand over all original documents pertaining to Leo's death to the family's solicitor. 2.
That there be a fully funded public inquiry into Leo's death which is independent
of the police. 3. That officers who were responsible for neglecting Leo be subject
to the law and answerable before the law. 4. That the family be entitled to Legal
The next stage in the search for the truth into Leo's death involves taking the case
to the European Courts of Human Rights, the family are not entitled to Legal Aid
and therefore to continue this struggle for the truth funds are urgently needed.
We are calling on all those who wish to make a stand against injustice to send donations
to and/or affiliate to the Leo O'Reilly Support Group.
You Can help by. 1. Writing to the Home Secretary and voicing your concern over the
case. (Send any replies to the Support Group.) 2. Writing to your MP voicing your
concern over the case. 3. Affiliating or sending a donation to the Leo O'Reilly Support
Group. 4. By supporting fund raising events - See local press for details.
cheques payable to: Leo O'Reilly Support Group, C/O Coventry TUC, Koco Building Unit
15, The Arches Industrial Estate, Spon End, Coventry CV 13JQ.
Supporters of the Campaign for Justice for John Leo O'Reilly include: Helen Shaw-INQUEST,
Fiona Murphy (Solicitor) BM Birnberg & Co., Gareth Pearce, Jonathon Glaston QC, Edward
Fitzgerald QC, Geoffrey Robinson MP, Irish in Britain Representation Group, Irish
Forum, Anne Whelan (Bridgewater four), Shane McGowan (The Pogues), Pauline Black,
Kevin Rowland & Pete Rowland, (Dexy's Midnight Runners), The Specials, Roddy Radiation,
Neville Staples, H. Linval Golding, Horace, Elvis Costello, Corin Redgrave, Kika
Markham, Christine Oddy, The Marxist Party, Coventry TUC, Coventry Irish Community
Advisory Resource Group.