Lancashire Police told to re-open investigation into death of Preston man Gareth Roberts due to 'serious concerns' over evidence available

Gareth Roberts, 36, died on January 13, 2018
Gareth Roberts, 36, died on January 13, 2018
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A police investigation into the death of a Preston man has been ordered to re-open after "serious concerns" were raised over evidence.

Gareth Roberts, 36, died on January 13, 2018. An inquest into his death at Preston Coroner's Court had been adjourned in January 2019 and was today reopened (Wednesday, June 19).

Gareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts

But after a hearing lasting three hours, it was adjourned again by Area Coroner Richard Taylor due to "serious concerns" with the evidence regarding how Mr Roberts came to die.

Doctor Brian Rodgers, a registered medical practitioner and Home Office Pathologist, said that Mr Roberts, of Singleton Close, Fulwood, died from asphyxiation via a combination of significant inhalation of blood in the airways and compression to his neck, "exacerbated" by the presence of alcohol and cocaine in his system.

The findings meant that no criminal investigation launched by Lancashire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

But Mr Taylor said while "we know the medical cause of death" the difficulty lies "in putting together a clear picture as to what has happened".

He said that a conclusion considering “unlawful killing, among others” would require further evidence.

The inquest heard how the day before Mr Roberts' death, he attended a party at friend Elaine Woods' home that descended into violence, with a scuffle erupting between Mr Roberts and another party-goer, Lee Bacon from Batley, near Huddersfield. He had been visiting Preston to see his children and joined the group at The Sherwood pub before being invited back to Ms Woods' home.

The court was told how violence erupted later in the evening in the aftermath of "friction" between Mr Roberts and Ms Woods when she suggested Mr Bacon sleep on her sofa instead of in his car.

Mr Roberts, who had a previous romantic relationship with Ms Woods, was then revealed to have sent texts to a mutual friend of his and Mr Bacon, who had left the party earlier in the night, regarding how he was trying to “get rid” of Mr Bacon from the house, with the final text saying: "I'm f****** angry right now."

The mutual friend had forwarded the basis of these messages to Mr Bacon who said he had not seen them as his phone was on charge upstairs.

"On face value Gareth Roberts was angry with Mr Bacon," Chief Inspector Mark Dickinson from Lancashire Police told the court.

Mr Bacon said that an argument then took place between Ms Woods and Mr Roberts followed by the living room table shattering when Mr Roberts put his glass on the top of it.

It was then that Mr Bacon claims he was punched twice by Mr Roberts.

He said Mr Roberts "lamped" him, adding: "I tried to get up [off the sofa] and he lamped me again."

But Ms Woods' police interview said the two men fell on the glass table, adding that Mr Bacon was "trying to get [Mr Roberts] in some kind of headlock or something"; that Mr Bacon started punching back; and that Mr Roberts' head was placed between Mr Bacon's knees during a struggle on the floor.

Mr Bacon told the court that he did not punch Mr Roberts and that during the struggle he only restrained Mr Roberts around the waist.

The court also heard that Ms Woods admitted to hitting Mr Roberts a number of times after "lashing out" with a chrome leg from the shattered table.

Mr Bacon said he “heard a thud and then [Mr Roberts] was no longer struggling”, turning to see Ms Woods stood over him with an object in her hand.

Ch Insp Dickinson said that following the police interviews with both Mr Bacon and Ms Woods, and after receiving the post-mortem findings, it was decided with the Crown Prosecution Service that there was no criminal investigation to be had.

But following a short recess, Area Coroner Richard Taylor adjourned the inquest once again, calling on Lancashire Police to re-open its investigation into what happened in the build up to Mr Roberts' death.

He said: "I have serious concerns. We heard evidence from Doctor Rodgers that the restraint certainly contributed to Gareth's death."

He added that the "logical" conclusion that was the restraint must have come during the struggle due to the timeline involved.

He continued: "With the restraint having contributed to the death I am not convinced that I have enough evidence before me and I am going to further adjourn this inquest and send this case back to the police for them to investigate this further.

"If I conclude this today I would have to consider unlawful killing, among others, but to do that I need further evidence."

Mr Taylor told Gareth's family that he can't give any update on the timescale involved, ending by saying: "I will simply adjourn."

The decision was met with cheers and tears from Gareth's friends and family.

Cause of death

Doctor Rodgers performed Mr Robert's postmortem examination after it was initially treated as a potential homicide by police.

The examination found that the cause of death was asphyxiation due to a combination of significant inhalation of blood in the airways and compression to his neck.

It revealed that there was bruising to the left of his head, eyebrow and bridge of his nose, as well as blood in his nostrils. He also had a Y-shaped laceration wound to the upper right forehead.

Dr Rodgers added that he "found nothing to say that Gareth Roberts had been hit by anything externally"; that there was no bleeding on the brain; and that he would expect more than "linear wounds" if Mr Roberts had been struck with "significant force".

Addressing Mr Roberts' family, Dr Rodgers said that in this case the neck compression falls short of "significant force". But he accepted there had been bruising so "some force has been applied".

Toxicology was positive for alcohol, at two times the legal driving limit, as well as cocaine levels of 137 milligrams.

"People can die from the use of cocaine," said Dr Rodgers, adding that this can happen even in the "come down phase".

The court then heard how the cause of death had been "exacerbated" by the presence of alcohol and cocaine.

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “We respect the Coroner’s decision and will be reviewing the matter to see if any further action is required.”