It has been more than two years since Norman Rhoden experienced every parent’s worse nightmare.
He was woken up by police officers in the early hours of the morning to be told his son had died of a cardiac arrest after falling from a balcony in Ibiza.
But it wasn’t long before videos surfaced online showing police officers grappling with Luke, a former Wigan Warriors academy player, in the street moments before his death.
Norman believes Luke was unlawfully killed by the police officers who used excessive force against him after he suffered a bad reaction to a drug he had taken on the Spanish party island in September 2014.
Following an inquest at Bolton Coroner’s Court last week, a jury found that Luke, from Ince, died as a result of asphyxia and drug use, aged just 25.
Their narrative conclusion was that his death was caused by “asphyxiation caused by the excessive restraining methods adopted by the Guardia Civil and an adverse reaction to drug use.”
It is my belief that he was unlawfully killed. I will take advice from my legal team but they have said there is grounds for us to go to SpainNorman Rhoden
But despite Norman’s relief that the Spanish police were found to be at fault, he was disappointed that a ruling of unlawfully killing was not possible. He said: “I feel good in the sense that the jury has recognised that the police were to blame for Luke’s death, that excessive force was used and one of the causes of death was asphyxiation.
“I would have liked the coroner to direct (the jury) to an unlawful killing verdict but he felt there wasn’t enough to do that. So the fight’s not over yet, we’ll carry on with this in Spain.
“It is my belief that he was unlawfully killed. I will take advice from my legal team but they have said there is grounds for us to go to Spain.”
The inquest heard from two independent witnesses, Annabelle Smith and Sean Pidduck, who said they thought the force used by the police officers was unnecessary.
Dr Santiago Akoskin flew over from Spain voluntarily to give evidence at the inquest after he was called to the scene to assist the police.
He explained that he saw one police officer hold a baton across Luke’s neck for around five minutes. He pleaded with them to stop on three occasions and told them they were killing him but they ignored him.
Nick Turner, a solicitor representing Norman, said: “We have to put a complaint into the Ibiza court of effectively death caused by excessive force and asphyxiation as a consequence of police behaviour.
“What’s disgraceful at the moment is that we are two years on from this terrible incident and we still don’t have the names of the police officers concerned, they have been very carefully concealed from us and we want the local Guardia Civil to give an explanation, which they have successfully side stepped so far.
“Luke lost his life as a result of what the police did on the side of the road by asphyxiating him, unlawfully, with the use of a baton. With the authority we have now got from a coroner’s inquest and the jury’s findings, we have now got a very, very strong case to bring against these officers in Ibiza.
“I have two other clients who suffered very similar ordeals to Norman’s son and they are bringing cases against the Guardia Civil for excessive brutality. The message that comes out of this is go somewhere else other than Ibiza if you are a young man, it is a very unsafe place to go on holiday for a lads’ weekend.”
Norman is determined to continue to fight for justice for his son and has criticised the country’s police force for not cooperating with the inquest.
“It is not safe, there needs to be some accountability out in Ibiza, the way they police out there needs to change,” he said.
“They know it goes on, the island is well known for the drug use that goes on there and if they are going to allow it they need to put some things in place that are going to protect our youngsters. Whether we like them doing this or not, we are not there with them 24 hours, we need someone to look after them and police them properly, not hit them with a baton every time they step out of line.
“Dr Akoskin especially has been huge in all of this, he has been the golden egg. With help we managed to track him down, that has been fantastic and the independent witnesses as well Sean Pidduck and Annabelle Smith, their accounts are so similar as well even though they don’t know each other.
“They both said how violent the police were and Annabelle was even threatened by them as she said on the witness stand, she said ‘they threatened me and said if I didn’t turn my camera off, I’m going to be next’. So what does that tell you?
“They obviously rule with an iron rod out there. It is unlawful and they are supposed to be the law.
“Watching the video footage dragged up a lot of emotion and it was very upsetting to see, but I know it needed to be done to get to where we are today and we now have a basis to go over to Spain and open up a case over there.”
Timeline of events:
August 31 2014
Norman Rhoden sees Luke for the last time the day before he flies to Ibiza for a stag do. He warns him to be careful.
September 1 2014
Luke flies from Liverpool with a group of friends to the island and arrive at the Ibiza Rocks hotel. They go out for the night, heading back to the hotel at around 4am.
September 2 2014
The group spends the day at a bar but drinks are expensive and nobody drinks to excess. They head back to the hotel late afternoon before heading back out to watch the sunset. Luke is sober enough to help the groom-to-be withdraw cash from a machine. Luke then disappears. The group, thinking he had returned to the hotel, head back but Luke isn’t there. He comes running in a short time later and seems to be behaving erratically. The group are unsure what has happened but Luke becomes paranoid, telling them to close the door because someone is after him. The others stay with him for a while and he calms down. Luke tells them he just needs to go to bed so they leave to go out.
A short time later, Luke falls from a canopy in the pool area of the hotel. He hurts both feet but heads for the lobby. Security staff from the hotel try to catch him and calm him down, they call the police. Two officers arrive and chase Luke out on the street. The two officers and two other men struggle to restrain Mr Rhoden but eventually manage to handcuff and restrain his legs. Luke loses consciousness just before an ambulance arrives. They attempt to resuscitate him but he is pronounced dead at the scene.
September 3 2014
Norman is woken in the early hours by two GMP police officers to be told his son has fallen from a balcony and that although he survived the fall, had died from a cardiac arrest. Luke’s friends return to the hotel from their night out. They are met in their room by a hotel manager who tells them Luke has died following an altercation with police. It is only later that Norman and Luke’s friends are made aware of videos of Luke being restrained by the police officers on the internet.
September 4 2014
Norman pays tribute to Luke and appeals for witnesses to come forward and contact the authorities.
September 5 2014
Norman asks Wigan MP Lisa Nandy to help him in his fight for justice.
September 9 2014
An appeal is launched by Luke’s family to raise more than £8,000 to bring his body home. The target is reached in days. Norman flies out to Ibiza to talk to witnesses.
September 11 2014
Norman reveals he has spoken to a doctor, Dr Santiago Akoskin, who was present when Luke died who said he told police three times to let go of Luke.
September 19 2014
Luke’s body arrives home.
October 2 2014
Hundreds of mourners attend Luke’s funeral.
An inquest is opened into Luke’s death at Bolton Coroner’s Court and adjourned pending further investigations.
Norman urges young people to stay away from Ibiza after another man comes forward claiming to have been severely beaten by police two months before Luke’s death.
Norman voices his fears that Spanish authorities won’t cooperate with the coroner’s inquiry after he was told they are unlikely to provide evidence, including CCTV footage to the coroner.
Luke’s inquest is delayed again.
The inquest is delayed again so that the Dr Santiago Akoskin can attend.
A full inquest is held at Bolton Coroner’s Court over three days. The jury conclude that excessive force used by police contributed to Luke’s death.