A MAN who died in custody at a Gwent police station had seemed “jovial” and apparently unconcerned by the prospect of a night in a cell, an inquest was told.

But less than two-and-ahalf hours after being booked into the custody suite at Pontypool police station, Lee Donovan was found dead in his cell.

The 23-year-old, living at the Solas hostel in Clarence Place, Newport, at the time of his death in April 2008, had been arrested in the city centre at shortly after 10pm on April 25, allegedly having punched off the wing mirror of a taxi.

As Newport police station’s custody suite was being refurbished, and there were delays booking in detainees at Maindee, Mr Donovan was taken to Pontypool, where the custody suite had been recommissioned temporarily.

Mr Donovan was booked in at 10.41pm and was found in his cell, with his socks around his neck, at 1am on April 26. Despite attempts at resuscitation by police officers and paramedics, he was pronounced dead at 2.35am.

Arresting officer PC Paul Goodwin said a check of the Police National Computer when arresting Mr Donovan revealed no markers on the entry to indicate any potential problems.

Such markers, relating to issues such as drug use and potential self harm, can be added to people’s records, to highlight potential problems to the police and to indicate that the person may be considered vulnerable.

PC Goodwin told the inquest Mr Donovan told him he was a drug user who was on methadone and had been drinking cider.

PC Dominic Lonergan, who drove the police van to Pontypool, said Mr Donovan had told him he had drunk about two litres.

Former Inspector Mark Wheatstone, who had passed Pontypool as suitable for temporary use as a custody suite, said he thought checks every 30 minutes on detainees could be achieved because it was a smaller unit than Newport. He had stipulated that no vulnerable or juvenile detainees should be kept there.

Both PC Goodwin and PC Lonergan told the inquest they had not considered Mr Donovan to be vulnerable.

PC Lonergan said Mr Donovan had not told him he was on methadone, while his colleague had not told the custody sergeant at Pontypool about the methadone and cider intake.

Gwent coroner David Bowen was told it was not standard procedure at the time to take a detainees’ socks from them before leaving them in their cells, and that remains the case.