Police are under investigation after pepper-spraying a suspected drunk – who then plunged into a lake and DROWNED.
Witnesses said officers blasted dad-of-three Leon Stent, 30, in the face – then watched as he ran into a holiday park lake and died.
The body of the young dad was recovered from Coghurst Holiday Park lake in Hastings, East Sussex, more than 15 hours later.
But Sussex Police, who were responding to reports of a man being drunk and abusive, said the man had not appeared to be in difficulties when he was in the waters because he was swimming away from officers.
Leon, from Hastings, was drinking in the holiday park’s bar on Saturday when police were called at 11pm to reports of a man being drunk and abusive.
Witnesses at the popular resort said Leon was hit in the face by police pepper spray after he struggled with an officer trying to handcuff him.
He then ran from the bar’s beer garden straight into the fishing lake.
Karen Baldwin, who lives at the park, said: “After the police pepper-sprayed him he was running around, probably trying to get it out of his eyes.
“He ran into the water but they didn’t follow him. One woman – I don’t know if she knew him or not – tried to go in after him but they stopped her.
“She was trying to save him but they wouldn’t let her go in.”
After swimming across the lake for several minutes, sadly Leon got into difficulties and slipped under the water.
A resident said: “I can’t believe the police stood there and did nothing to help him. They might as well have held his head under the water. It’s not a swimming lake, it’s full of reeds.”
Sussex Police explained that officers failed to enter the water because Leon did not look like he was in any trouble.
Chief inspector Warren Franklin, said: “Officers and friends of the man encouraged him to come out of the water, but before he could do so he got into difficulties.
“Officers used boats to get onto the lake but could not find any trace of him.
“A large-scale search of the lake was launched by officers with other members of the emergency services as well as the surrounding area.
“Sadly, at around 3pm on Sunday, May 18, a body was found by divers from Sussex Police’s Specialist Search Unit.
“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.”
Another resident said: “Everyone was out by the water watching what was going on.
“I sat on the bank with his father and brother on Sunday while they waited for the police to pull his body out. It was heart-breaking.”
Sussex Police would not confirm whether officers refused to enter the water due to health and safety.
The matter has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are investigating.