A 25 year-old amateur rugby league player has died in police custody in suspicious circumstances just days after nationwide riots.

Amateur rugby league player Jacob Michael, 25, from the Widnes area of Cheshire, phoned police after a threat was made to him but when police arrived they arrested him on suspicion of affray, following a struggle Jacob was sprayed in his face by the police. He fled despite being visually impaired but he was tackled to the ground by police officers who were waiting nearby, however eye-witnesses said that Jacob was beaten by police officers as he lay on the ground.

Neighbour Anne Blease, 40, who said she saw the incident, witnessed 11 police officers kicking and punching Jacob while he was handcuffed on the floor with his legs restrained.

Speaking to the MailOnline (Inquiry as rugby league player, 25, dies after he was pepper-sprayed and arrested by ‘ELEVEN officers’: Rob Cooper: 24 August, 2011), Anne said:

What the police did was outrageous. He was handcuffed, on the floor with his legs restrained and they didn’t even have the decency to pull up his pants. They seemed to be kneeing him in the back of the head. I counted 11 cops. They were all sat on him, giving him a kicking and giving him side digs. There was one woman officer, the rest were men, and she was getting her kicks in as well. They were chasing him in the street. I saw it because they chased him in front of my house. His mum told me Jake was the one who rang the police himself, saying that someone was threatening him with a gun. They started chasing him and hitting him in the back of the legs with batons…It was so upsetting to see. I couldn’t believe the police could do that. It was like something you see on those TV cop shows. I went to speak to his mum. She didn’t know what happened…They had banged his head on the floor and they were giving him punches. He was already handcuffed and he was restrained when I saw him…He was shouting, “Help me, help me”. He wasn’t coherent. I don’t know why they were bringing him in for affray. It doesn’t matter, he didn’t deserve that. He’s never been in trouble before as far as I know. The officers threw him into the van by his arms and legs after they beat him. He was shouting for help. We were saying afterwards with the neighbours, nobody saw him get sprayed. It’s an absolute disgrace. I don’t think the police realise how many eye-witnesses there were. We were all shouting, “Get off him”. We were scared for him. They weren’t listening, they didn’t seem aware of us, or that there were kids watching. It lasted for 15 minutes that I saw, and he was handcuffed the whole time. I don’t know why they kept hitting him. All he was doing was shouting for them to get off him. His parents are absolutely mortified. Jake was a popular, well liked lad. He was a friend of a friend of mine and was house sitting for her this week. She’s absolutely distraught. It’s a waste of a young life. It’s a disgrace.”

When Jacob was taken to the police station he was not feeling well and was rushed to a hospital, two hours later he was pronounced dead.

The Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) is conducting an investigation and Philip Thompson, the Assistant Chief Constable of Cheshire Police, has appealed for calm from the community. Thompson also stated that a post mortem found no physical injuries which led to the cause of death.

The witnesses statements who saw police officers beat on Jacob will be crucial to this investigation, and it will be interesting to see how the IPCC deals with those statements and what impact it will have on establishing what happened.

Jacob’s father Michael Snr, a retired businessman remained dignified through an emotionally difficult period. He told the MailOnline, “I cannot say anything at this stage because it’s far too early to say what happened and we need to know how Jake died. All I want to know is what happened to my son and I’m sure everyone feels the same about that. All I can say is that the whole family are devastated at Jake’s death and we need time to reflect on it before we say anything about it.

The shame of the rioters

The young black people who were involved in the looting and arson on local businesses in their area will hopefully see now how shameful their behaviour has been in light of another black death in police custody.

Their behaviour has distracted the public about the seriousness of this issue, and whatever justifications that has been used to excuse their behaviour, such as the poor economic climate, welfare budget cuts and soaring unemployment, the death of Jacob should sober them up to realise that the loss of lives in police custody is far more important than stealing clothes, TVs and other consumer products.

It is time for the black community to deal with these deaths from a sober perspective.

Our sympathies go out to the Michael family during their tragic loss.

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