Mystery of Brit drugs ring kingpin found dead in prison cell with no explanation

Mystery is surrounding the death of a former drugs ring boss after a post-mortem of Stephen Kearns was unable to find his cause of death.

After being found unresponsive in his bed at HMP Stocken, in the East Midlands, on the morning of October 3, 2020, no signs of assault or restraint were found and no drugs were found in his system.

The man from Kirkby in Merseyside was initially jailed for 15 years at Plymouth Crown Court in 2013 after being convicted of flooding Devon coastal town Plymouth with crack cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

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The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) opened an investigation in Kearns' death where PPO Sue McAllister confirmed that "a post-mortem was unable to determine the cause of Mr Kearns' death".

Kearns was the mastermind of the drugs ring that was uncovered by Devon and Cornwall Police as part of what they dubbed 'Operation Rio' in early 2011, as officers tracked over a hundred car journeys between Merseyside and the south coast.

Despite being convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs which held a 15-year jail sentence, Kearns was released from prison on licence on June 5, 2020, at the half-way point of his sentence, according to the PPO report.

Just two days later, Kearns was recalled to prison on licence by the Probation Service after being arrested on suspicion of unnamed offences and underwent a reception health assessment at HMP Stocken in the July.

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The report stated: "Mr Kearns said that he had no health concerns, that he did not have any current problems with alcohol or drug use and that he had no thoughts of deliberate self-harm. The nurse noted her own observation that Mr Kearns appeared fit and well."

On the day of his death, Kearns' cell was checked twice, at 5.19am and 7.13am, where staff reported he was asleep on his bed.

At 9.04am, when told by officers it was time for showers and telephone calls, Kearns didn't respond and – after entering his cell – the officer noticed his skin looked blue, according to PPO Ms McAllister.

Despite prison officers radioing an emergency code where a prison nurse and paramedics arrived to revive Kearns, their efforts were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 9.57am.

The report stated: "The post-mortem identified some scarring to Mr Kearns’ heart muscle, together with an abnormally narrowed branch of a coronary artery with enlargement of a proportion of the muscle cells.

"The pathologist noted that these changes might have been linked to previous use of stimulant drugs. However, he went on to say that the pathological changes he had observed were not sufficiently severe to give this as a likely cause of death. Toxicology tests found no substances to account for Mr Kearns’ death."


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