Police apologise for 10-month sample delay after death of Wigan man
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Det Chief Insp Andrew Naismith, from Greater Manchester Police’s homicide and major incident team, said he was “absolutely mortified” that it had taken so long for Sean Snaylam’s family to find out what had happened to him.
The delay was revealed during an inquest this week at Bolton Coroner’s Court looking into the death of the 30-year-old, who lived in Ashton.
He was found unresponsive in a neighbour’s flat on December 5, 2020 and could not be revived by paramedics.
Earlier that day he had been involved in a dispute with his girlfriend Danielle Francis and claimed she had headbutted him, punched him and thrown him down the stairs.
In case that alleged incident had contributed to his death, police asked for a more detailed post-mortem examination to be carried out by a Home Office-registered pathologist and Ms Francis was arrested on suspicion of assault.
Forensic pathologist Dr Charles Wilson told the inquest that samples of Sean’s blood, urine and vitreous humour (eye fluid) were taken and given to police officers.
These should have been sent by the police for analysis by a toxicologist - but instead were frozen and left in storage until inquiries were made months later chasing up the results and the cause of Sean’s death.
Det Ch Insp Naismith explained a colleague had not sent the samples, describing it as an “oversight” for which he took “full responsibility”, and they were finally sent for analysis in September 2021.
He said: “I am the officer that was in charge of the investigation and I should have checked and double-checked that they had gone away.
“It’s not an excuse, but we are busy and sometimes deal with two or three deaths a day and it was an oversight.
“I get that oversight has extended the family’s pain and I am extremely sorry for that.”
The inquest heard that because the samples had been frozen, it was likely that most of what they contained had been preserved.
Senior consultant forensic toxicologist Julie Evans said she received the samples on September 30, 2021. While one sample of blood had leaked in transit, there was still enough to analyse,
Her tests showed alcohol, cocaine, cocaethylene, cannabinoids, benzodiazepine, morphine, codeine and alcohol were all in his system.
Mrs Evans explained the morphine had likely come from codeine tablets Sean was known to take and cocaethylene was created when alcohol and cocaine are consumed at the same time.
Dr Wilson did not find any injuries consistent with an assault or fall down stairs during his post-mortem examination - leading to Sean’s girlfriend being released by police.
But he did find evidence of aspiration pneumonia, showing Sean had inhaled the content of his stomach.
He explained this happens when someone has a low level of consciousness and Sean may have aspirated while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Dr Wilson said the cause of Sean’s death was aspiration pneumonia, due to alcohol, cocaine, diazepam and opiates.
The inquest heard Sean had gone to his neighbour Paige Leyland’s flat at around 4am on December 5, 2020 with a bottle of wine, which they consumed before falling asleep on sofas.
She woke at 9am and said a few words to Sean, before they both went back to sleep.
She woke up again at 4pm and after realising Sean could not be roused, she called 999. Paramedics arrived at 5.10pm and Sean was confirmed to have died.
Concerns about the actions of police officers after Sean’s death were raised by his family during the inquest.
His sister Emma Snaylam was particularly upset no officers were in attendance when she arrived around two hours later, despite Sean’s body still being in his neighbour’s flat.
Det Ch Insp Naismith said a police officer was on a veranda when he arrived at 9pm, but did not dispute her account and confirmed a uniformed officer should have been there at all times until Sean’s body was collected by an undertaker.
He admitted there had also been confusion about who was later responsible for the case and whether a statement should have been taken from Sean’s girlfriend by the police or a coroner’s officer.
Det Con Kelly-Anne Featherstone, from GMP’s professional standards branch, said an officer had incorrectly let Sean’s brother Carl Snaylam into the flat, despite the area being treated as a crime scene.
The actions of the police were investigated by the professional standards branch as Sean had been in contact with officers several times in the days leading up to his death.
In the early hours of December 3, 2020, they were called to Ms Francis’ home after an incident between her and Sean.
He was taken by police to his brother’s home in Salford afterwards.
At 2.20am on December 4 he made a 999 call to the police raising concerns for her welfare. Officers attended but she was safe and well.
Ms Francis then called police at around 1am on December 5, saying Sean had phoned to say he was on his way in a taxi and she did not want him there.
Det Con Featherstone said this call was graded as a priority two, so officers should have been allocated in 20 minutes and attended within an hour, but that did not happen and no-one went.
When Sean arrived, Ms Francis said he banged on her door and she let him in, before running upstairs to call police at 2.20am.
Ms Francis told the call operator Sean was pretending to pass out at the bottom of the stairs and she described him dropping himself down the stairs.
Police officers responded to the call as an emergency this time and arrived just after 2.30am.
Body-worn video footage shows Sean telling them Ms Francis had punched and headbutted him and pushed him down the stairs.
He was taken to his brother Carl’s home again and the pair went to McDonald’s in Leigh, before Carl drove his brother back to Ashton and he went to Ms Leyland’s home.
Concluding the inquest, coroner Catherine Cundy said police made a “significant investigative error” in failing to send the toxicological samples for analysis until 10 months later.
She intended to write to the chief constable to point out the “investigative failings” in the case and urge them to consider any learning opportunities.
She recorded Sean’s death was alcohol and drug-related.
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