Luke Rhoden inquest: Just what happened in Luke's final minutes?
A long-awaited inquest into the 25-year-old’s death in Ibiza in 2014 started yesterday with Luke’s family hoping for a verdict of unlawful killing.
The former Wigan Warriors Academy player, from Ince, died on the holiday island while on a stag-do.
Describing the scene on the night of his death, eye-witness Annabelle Smith said she watched an altercation between Mr Rhoden and Guardia Civil officers.
She told the hearing at Bolton Coroner’s Court the Wigan man had run out of the Ibiza Rocks hotel followed by two officers.
He had sat down in the street and began banging his head against some panelling and the officers tried to stop him.
She said: “They got him away from the wall and he was lying on the ground. Luke wasn’t being violent he was flailing his arms and legs around. He wasn’t speaking but making a lot of noise.
“The officers had black plastic batons.
“One of them hit Luke on the legs with the baton more than once and one time when he struck him the baton flew out of his hand and bounced up the street twice, which to me seemed like too much force.
“I’d spent the summer in Ibiza and I knew the police could be quite violent. As far as I was aware they were allowed to use that violence, that’s what I had been told. I was shocked but it was nothing I hadn’t seen before.”
Miss Smith continued to watch as the police officers tried to restrain Luke. She said he was not being violent but trying to get away.
More police officers arrived and she watched on as Luke was handcuffed and his legs restrained with plastic ties.
She said someone was sat on his legs, one person was by his head and two others were by his middle. She said Luke continued to scream occasionally but every time officers would press his head into the ground. And police warned her about taking pictures of the altercation, she added.
Sean Pidduck, who was also staying at Ibiza Rocks, saw Luke acting strangely in the lobby while security guards tried to catch him but also said he didn’t think Luke was being violent but was frightened. He followed Luke out onto the street.
He said he saw an officer place his baton on Luke’s neck while his head was on the kerb. He said: “I thought he was unconscious but then he pushed the guy off again so they put the baton on his throat until he went limp again.
“People in the crowd were shouting for him to get off. The general consensus in the crowd was that it was unnecessary.
“He was clearly on drugs but I have always thought the level of police brutality was completely unnecessary and that was the main reason he died.”
Earlier in proceedings assistant coroner Kevin McLoughlin heard from Mr Rhoden’s parents.
Norman Rhoden told the court he had asked his son to be careful the day before he flew out to Ibiza and he was days later informed of the tragedy by Greater Manchester Police.
He said: “I saw him the day before he left.
“He was going on a stag-do which he had organised for his friend.
“We spoke about how excited he was but I told him to be careful, to be safe.”
The police officers explained that Luke had fallen from a balcony and, although he survived the fall, had subsequently died from a heart attack.
Mr Rhoden explained that it was only afterwards when a journalist asked him what he thought of allegations that police on the island had used force against Luke that he thought there might be more to it.
He later visited the island and spoke to the police, a doctor and a pathologist but believes there are discrepancies in their evidence.
Mr Rhoden senior said he had questions about the validity of a post-mortem examination carried out in Spain and what happened leading up to Luke’s death, including what involvement the police had.
The inquest also heard evidence from Luke’s mum, Heidi Noronha, who also visited the island after Luke’s death.
She was shown CCTV from the hotel which she said showed her son jumping from the balcony of his room on the first floor.
She said his behaviour was erratic and he wasn’t acting himself. And added the family had been informed drugs had been found in Luke’s system.
When asked what she wanted from the inquest she said: “I just want him to rest in peace. I want to find out what they (the police) did to him.”
The inquest is being heard in front of a jury and is expected to conclude tomorrow. Medical evidence is expected today.