A MAN who died in a police cell was not checked for nearly two hours, despite guidelines stating vulnerable prisoners must be checked every 30 minutes, an inquest heard yesterday.

But the hearing was told that the prisoner had been checked once before he was found dead.

Lee Donovan, 23, who lived at the Solas Hostel, Clarence Place, Newport, was found dead two and a half hours after being booked into the custody suite at Pontypool Police Station.

He had been arrested in Newport city centre at 10pm on April 25, 2008, having allegedly punched off the wing mirror of a taxi.

After being taken to Pontypool because Newport central’s custody suite was being refurbished, Mr Donovan was booked in at 10.41pm.

He was found with his socks around his neck at 1am on April 26 and pronounced dead at 2.35am.

He was booked in by then Gwent Police Sergeant Gavin Rae, who gave evidence yesterday at Gwent Coroner’s Court sitting in Newport.

Mr Rae described Mr Donovan as “very jovial, co-operative and calm”, saying “he seemed like a nice guy” and emptied his possessions on to the desk without being asked.

He said there was little sign Mr Donovan had been drinking, saying “he was walking perfectly fine and I had no concerns at all”.

Mr Rae also said he told him: “I haven’t touched anything for six months”, which he took to mean drugs.

Mr Rae said if there are no issues with people brought in, they are checked every hour. If there are issues, such as them being intoxicated, they are checked every half hour and those deemed at risk of self-harm are kept under constant observation.

Mr Rae said: “Even though he’d had a drink, he wasn’t falling about. He was very calm, cooperative and gave me no reason to think there would be an issue.”

When Mr Donovan was checked in, custody detention officer Keith Kehoe had left for five minutes to pick up a Chinese takeaway.

Mr Rae admitted Mr Donovan wasn’t seen after being checked in at 10.47pm until 12.30am – he was then found dead at 1.01am.