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Death linked to Taser to be probed

A fatal incident in which a man died after being shot with a Taser by officers called to a flat burglary has been referred to the police watchdog.

Staffordshire Police said the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had been notified, as a matter of course, after the incident at a block of flats in Newcastle-under-Lyme near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, just after 1am.

The flat's occupants, understood to be a young couple with a little boy, were not inside when officers arrived, according to a force spokesman.

However, another man was in the first floor flat and officers deployed a Taser.

A force spokesman added: "During the incident, a Taser was discharged by officers and the man was taken to a police vehicle."

The man then became "unresponsive" and, despite treatment by paramedics, he died.

Today, uniformed officers remain on guard outside the flat's doorway, while residents spoke of their shock at the night's events.

A resident living on the ground floor with his pregnant girlfriend said he saw a "drunk-looking" man being supported and escorted by at least three police officers into a custody van.

The 22-year-old, who declined to be named, said at about 1.45am he heard the white male call "help me", as he was walked along a short path leading from the front of the flats to the main Audley Road.

He added that the first he heard of any trouble was "shouting in the corridor", but initially thought nothing of it.

"I just thought it's the lads having a few beers, but then there was banging," he said.

The resident, who lives right by the front door to the block of flats said he grew alarmed, bundling his six-and-a-half month pregnant girlfriend into her car and off to her parents while he stayed.

"It's something when you have to put your missus in the car and send her off," he said.

"I just locked the door and wanted nothing to do with it."

He had been awake at the time, as he works nights at a local food processing factory in nearby Alsager.

The man said he then heard the police arrive and shortly afterwards saw a man being escorted from the flats.

"I looked out and there was about seven cop cars, and this guy came out - he was still alive then, he was still walking," he said.

"There were about nine of them and they were carrying him, one under each arm and another in front to hold him up.

"He was saying 'help me'.

"He looked drunk."

He added that a couple lived in the flat with a little boy, with another neighbour Mark Finney describing them as "hard-working".

The 50-year-old lives directly above the first floor flat where the incident happened, and said he heard "tremendous banging, like in distress".

"Then I heard somebody shouting 'calm down, just calm down'."

Mr Finney, who is unemployed, thought the shouting lasted "about 30-45 minutes", but he never heard the police arrive.

"I sat and made myself a coffee - I thought it was a domestic and with those it's best not to get involved," he said.

"But I never heard anyone say 'police' or anything.

"When I got up this morning and heard the guy had been tasered and had died, that's just shocking. It's upsetting."

Mr Finney, who has lived the three-storey block for seven years said there had rarely been any trouble, and it was the only notable incident he could recall in all that time.

Of the couple who live there, he said: "They're young, in their 20s.

"They're very hard-working, and keep themselves to themselves - I think he's a van driver who works for his father."

He added access to the flats, run by social housing group Aspire Housing, was through a set of door buzzers, and while a tradesmen button allows access during daylight hours it prevents anyone getting inside the block after night falls.

One neighbour, who lives on the adjoining street, said: "It all seems quite strange. The flats are three-storey council houses, and from what I have heard the victims (of the burglary) made it out before calling the police.

"I gather the burglar was still inside when the police showed up.

"I don't know the exact lay-out of the flats but I know they are quite small. He must have been inside somewhere when the police arrived."

Staffordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis said it was "immensely sad" a man had lost his life, but added it would be inappropriate to comment further during an on-going IPCC investigation.

He said: "The police informed me soon after the incident happened.

"This is a formal matter for the IPCC and they have also been informed."

He added: "It would be inappropriate for me to comment further on an ongoing investigation which must now run its course.

"Clearly, it's immensely sad when someone loses their life in any circumstance and there will be a formal process which must and will be followed in this case."

Mr Ellis said he had also asked the force's ethics, transparency and audit panel (Etap) to look at the incident.

Meanwhile, one legal expert has called for temporary curbs nationally on the use of Tasers in light of a Home Office review of their use.

Sophie Khan, solicitor-advocate at Sophie Khan & Co, said: "This Taser death shows Tasers are a real threat to life and their use must now be curbed.

"The Home Secretary has ordered a review of Tasers in October this year due to the excessive use on vulnerable individuals.

"As the spotlight is now firmly on police use of force, the Home Secretary should move to impose a temporary ban on Taser use whilst the review is ongoing."

In 2013, an IPCC report concluded the Staffordshire force appeared to have the highest Taser use in the country.

A follow-up review by the force found that Taser was discharged 71 times out of 619 times it was deployed, with a police spokesman saying this was "one of the lowest rates" in the country.

Mr Ellis said it was "important to understand the context of use (of Taser)".

"Police officers use the Taser very effectively from a preventative point of view so although the number of times it's taken from the holster is quite high, the number of times it is actually shot or fired is very low indeed."

He also pointed out Staffordshire Police has rolled out body cameras to all officers.

"I'm hopeful and confident the footage from body-cams from this tragic incident today may be very useful indeed," said Mr Ellis.

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