Sussex man 'pepper sprayed' officer in the face while pinned down, inquest hears

An inquest into Duncan's death is taking place
An inquest into Duncan's death is taking place

A man being restrained by police in Sussex – who later died – grabbed pepper spray from one officer and sprayed it in his face, an inquest has heard.

PC Russell Watson was involved in the arrest of Burgess Hill man Duncan Tomlin, who died after being arrested in Haywards Heath in 2014.

The incident happened near the junction of Wood Ride and Ryecroft in Haywards Heath. Picture: Google Streetview

The incident happened near the junction of Wood Ride and Ryecroft in Haywards Heath. Picture: Google Streetview

Speaking at Duncan’s inquest today, PC Watson said he ‘discounted’ the idea that Duncan had been having an epileptic seizure at the time and kept him pinned to the ground.

READ MORE: Burgess Hill man who died after arrest was ‘screaming in pain’ when restrained

He told the coroner: “I am dealing with a fast-moving incident, a violent man who I am really struggling with.

“I had to make a decision as to whether it was epilepsy or not, because it if was an epileptic seizure that would have made it a medical emergency.”

He was asked whether he had any medical expertise to help him decide if Duncan was having an epileptic seizure, and he said he did not.

“I still had a decision to make and based on my knowledge at the time that was the decision I made.”

PC Watson acknowledged that Duncan’s girlfriend Ann-Marie Botting had told him she thought it was a seizure but said he ‘discounted’ this.

Asked if holding Duncan held face down was dangerous, PC Watson said there were risks.

“There are risks with restraining people. The restraint was necessary at the time.”

Ann-Marie’s legal representative at the inquest, Ifeanyo Odogwu, pointed out that only in later statements did PC Watson say Duncan had turned over while pinned on the floor in order to spray him with Captor spray (also known as pepper spray).

He asked PC Watson: “Officer were you tailoring your evidence?

"You say Duncan has somehow grabbed the CS spray, turned it around and sprayed it in your face. This is an elaborate story isn’t it?”

PC Watson said he was telling the truth, and that his initial statement may have been affected by the traumatic nature of the incident.

He added: “This happened five years ago, I am trying to remember it as best I can.”

The inquest continues.

READ MORE: Boy saw man pinned down by police and screaming after ‘Taser’