Family want answers over English fan’s death in Bulgaria
Supporter died before Euro qualifier in Sofia Bulgarian police ‘not giving us any answers’
The family of the England supporter who died in Bulgaria ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying match want an independent inquiry into the circumstances behind his death.
Rob Spray, from Heath Hayes, in Cannock, died while in police custody on Monday, but his distraught family have been given no answers over what he was treated for or why he was allowed to be taken from the hospital in Sofia by police.
Spray, a 32-year-old West Bromwich Albion season ticket-holder who lived at home with his mother and father, was in a group of 10 fans celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday and was not a regular traveller on England away trips.
His family are in contact with Staffordshire Police and have also been in touch with the Foreign Office and the MP for Cannock Chase, Amanda Milling, as they seek answers on what happened to Spray and when they can bring his body back to England.
A fundraising page set up to cover the costs of repatriating Spray’s body has already raised over £15,000, but his family are unhappy with the amount of information they have been given from the Bulgarian authorities. Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, Spray’s sister, Katie Brown, said: “We’ve got a liaison officer and he is telling us the Bulgarian police aren’t speaking to the Staffordshire Police. So Staffordshire have told us they are going to get Interpol involved because the Bulgarian police are not giving us any answers.
“I’ve been speaking to Amanda Milling’s office because we want answers and we need some help. We want an independent inquiry into what happened. They said they will get on to the Foreign Office, but all they have called for so far is my brother’s travel insurance details.
“We want to get his body back. The local undertaker is coming, but we don’t know what to do. Nobody is helping us, we don’t know which way to turn.
“The only thing we’ve been told is that it could take a minimum of 14 days to get Rob back, but it could take longer if the autopsy is inconclusive. The toxicology report is coming Friday, but that’s all we’ve been told.”
Staffordshire Police said in a statement: “A family liaison officer from Staffordshire Police is supporting the relatives of a Cannock man who died in Sofia, Bulgaria.”
The original reports released by the Bulgarian interior ministry claimed that Spray had been found in a helpless condition in the centre of Sofia and taken to hospital before police were called when he began behaving aggressively. It was also claimed that officers were investigating whether he had taken drugs.
But his sister revealed that Spray was regularly drug-tested as part of his job as an HGV driver for DHL. She has been left confused by the gaps in information the family have been given.
“We want to know why it was put out in the public that the death was drug-related,” said Brown. “He was tested the other week for drugs and he passed. He doesn’t take drugs, he couldn’t afford to because of random drugs-testing, and he loved his job. We don’t believe that there would have been any drugs.
“We’ve been told by one of his friends that where his accommodation was and where my brother was found, was 18km away. But my brother, he doesn’t even walk to the local shop, so I don’t know how he’s gone so far. We’ve been told he went out at 8.50am to get some cigarettes, then he’s found 18km away at 9.58am. The report says that was when he was found unconscious on the ground, but we were told two things – that he had got a head injury and also that he was found in an intoxicated coma.
“We don’t know anything from here really. We don’t know what he was treated for or whether or not he was given anything. We’ve heard they brought him round and then apparently he has become aggressive. But I can see him waking up and thinking. ‘Where the hell am I?’ He’s 6ft 3in and I don’t know whether they thought he was a threat to them, but it’s so out of character for them to say that. He was a gentle giant.
“Then, for some reason, they’ve called the police and the police have taken him from the hospital to the police station, he’s passed away in transit. If he was unwell, why have they let him go to the police?”
Spray’s death has left his family “broken” and Brown, 40, paid tribute to her brother, saying: “He was just a gentle giant and he was the most polite lad you would meet. He was so lovely to everyone.
“We had a gathering at the local pub where Rob drank on Tuesday night. The Winding Wheel in Heath Hayes, Cannock, where he is from. The word got out and on Tuesday it’s usually dead in there, but it was packed with about 300 people. It just showed how much people loved him.”
A Foreign Office statement said: “We are supporting the family of a British man who died following an incident in Sofia and our staff are in contact with the UK and Bulgarian authorities.”
‘He was just a gentle giant and he was the most polite lad you would meet. He was so lovely’
Tragic: England supporter Rob Spray died in Bulgaria earlier this week