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Family remember 'true gentleman' Gerard McMahon who died after being sprayed with CS gas in Belfast city centre

By Deborah McAleese

Published 10/09/2016

Gerard McMahon
Gerard McMahon
Forensics officers on Great Victoria Street, Belfast, where Gerard McMahon was involved in a ‘violent’ incident that required the use of CS spray

The man who died after a struggle with police in Belfast has been described by family and friends as "one of the good guys".

Gerard McMahon passed away in hospital on Thursday after police attempted to restrain him during a "violent" incident.

CS spray was used by officers, but it is not yet known if it contributed to Mr McMahon's death.

Yesterday, his heartbroken parents, Gerard and Ella, called for a "thorough and swift investigation" into their son's death by the Police Ombudsman.

"Our family are grieving for our son and brother, Gerard, and are calling on the Police Ombudsman's office to carry out a thorough and swift investigation into the circumstances of his death," they said.

The Belfast man, who was known as DJ Macko to his friends, was allegedly involved in an altercation with a number of taxi drivers on Great Victoria Street at around 5am on Thursday, when police attempted to arrest him.

He is not believed to have been armed and no weapons were recovered from the scene.

CS spray was used by an officer during a struggle with Mr McMahon, who then became ill.

Officers administered first aid at the scene of the incident until paramedics arrived.

Family and friends later paid tribute to the 36 year-old on social media.

One described him as "one of the good guys". Another friend said he was a "true gentleman."

In another post, a pal wrote: "You could never have met a nicer person."

Mr McMahon's aunt also spoke of her heartbreak over his death on Facebook.

She said her heart was heavy and she was "totally heartbroken." She added: "If love could have (saved) you yesterday, you would still be here xx".

Officers believe Mr McMahon may have taken the prescription drug Lyrica, also known as 'bud', prior to the incident.

A police source told the Belfast Telegraph: "The detained person appeared to be high on drugs when officers arrived at the scene.

"He is believed to have taken Pregabline (Lyrica).

Police Ombudsman investigators have gathered evidence from outside the Grand Opera House and taken away CCTV footage.

Senior investigating officer Paul Murphy said the Ombudsman's office was informed by police at 6.30am on Thursday that they had responded to a male who had been in an altercation with a number of taxi drivers outside the Grand Opera House.

Mr Murphy said a number of witnesses had come forward.

However, he also appealed for anyone else who may have been at the scene to contact the Ombudsman's office.

"This is now a Police Ombudsman investigation, so the Police Ombudsman's Office will now take primacy and we'll conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest and also the condition of the male in question," Mr Murphy said.

Irritant spray, also called CS spray or Pava spray, is used on a fairly frequent basis by officers and is one of the items in the standard police toolkit.

Exposure to the gas causes a burning sensation and significant tearing of the eyes to the extent that the subject cannot keep them open and is thus often incapacitated.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said he was shocked to learn of the death. "My thoughts are with his family at this tragic time," he added. "I have been in touch with senior police about the circumstances which led to Gerard being rushed to hospital."

"The Ombudsman has launched an investigation into the detention of Gerard McMahon. That must be thorough so that his grieving family get the full facts as quickly as possible."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough Brown tweeted: "Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Gerard McMahon. Such a tragic, tragic case. Thoughts with family and friends."

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