1 October 2021

Before HM Coroner Dr Sean Cummings
Bedfordshire Coroner’s Court
27 September – 1 October 2021

Benjamin Higgins was 22 years old when he became unresponsive in a Bedfordshire Police car, and later died in hospital on 21 April 2019. An inquest has today concluded finding that Ben died after taking a fatal amount of cocaine in a cry for help. 

The inquest identified that opportunities for police officers and a paramedic to find out more information about what drugs Ben had taken, how much, and when, were missed, and that an ‘appropriate alarm was not raised’.  However, the jury did not conclude that those missed opportunities would have led to a different outcome.

Ben grew up in Luton with his loving mother. His family describe him as ‘a true friend, always the first to lend a hand to someone in need’. He was an adventurous person with many hobbies, including travelling, sports, gardening and farming. He had a passion for horses.

Ben was diagnosed with learning difficulties at a young age. He had also had some issues with mental ill health in his late teens, but was unable to access the required level of support from mental health services. A few months before his death, Ben’s mental health declined and aspects of his personal life became particularly challenging.

Ben was admitted to Luton and Dunstable Hospital in February 2019 after an incident of self-harm. The crisis team initially recommended residential care, but Ben ran out of the hospital. He was later brought back to hospital by his family and the recommended approach was for Ben to seek support via his GP. The GP prescribed 28 days of antidepressants, but there was no specific follow-up scheduled, and a referral to the Community Mental Health Team was sent to the wrong email address. 

On 21 April 2019, which was Easter Sunday, Ben had an altercation with one of his partner’s family members. Bedfordshire Police attended, as did an ambulance. Police initially responded and Ben was handcuffed in the back of the police car.  While on the scene officers were told several times by witnesses that Ben had taken a large amount of drugs. 

Those police officers did not ask follow up questions to determine the nature of the drugs, when or how they were taken, or in what quantities, nor did they pass on that information to other officers promptly. During a more general discussion on the incident about 10 minutes before Ben started fitting, a paramedic was informed that Ben may have taken drugs but he was not told that it was believed to be a large amount. Ben was not asked by a police officer or by the paramedic whether he had taken drugs.

Having initially been compliant and communicative, Ben then became unresponsive in the police car. It was at this point that a police officer told the paramedic that Ben had been in possession of a large bag of cocaine. Ben was attended to by police and a paramedic but he was not given medical treatment.

After a number of minutes in the back of the car, Ben collapsed and paramedics then intensively worked on Ben. He was taken to hospital by ambulance but did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead later that evening.

The inquest concluded finding that Ben died after taking a fatal amount of cocaine in a cry for help, but that he did not intend to die. The jury noted the multiple occasions when police officers were told about drugs and found that despite these warnings ‘an appropriate alarm was not raised and opportunities were missed to help Ben.'

Lochlinn Parker of ITN Solicitors, who represent the family, said: “The jury heard that there were a number of occasions where action could have been taken to find out more information about Ben’s condition and that, as a result, opportunities to help Ben were missed. However, they were not able to say that Ben’s life could have been saved if he had been taken to hospital earlier. 

A number of the officers accepted that in hindsight it would be better to find out more information in similar circumstances and not to simply rely on the presentation of a detained person. The family hope that those officers, and the police more widely, will act differently in the future and that other lives will be saved.”

Lucy McKay, a spokesperson for the charity INQUEST, said: “Police have a duty of care to all detainees, not least when they have been informed of drug taking in large amounts. The circumstances of Ben’s death are extremely concerning, including the months before when he was unable to access sufficient support for mental ill health. On the day he died, as the jury confirmed, it is clear that opportunities to respond were missed. We hope Bedfordshire Police and forces nationally consider these findings and take action.”


For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]

The family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Lochlinn Parker of ITN Solicitors and Owen Greenhall of Garden Court Chambers. They are supported by INQUEST caseworker Nancy Kelehar.

Other Interested persons represented are the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, the IOPC, the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust and the East London NHS Foundation Trust.

Journalists should refer to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting suicide and self-harm and guidance for reporting on inquests.