A YOUNG father drowned in a lake while running from police who had just pepper- sprayed him.

Witnesses said officers watched as father-of-three Leon Stent ran into a lake at a holiday park but did not dive in after him.

His body was recovered from the water at Coghurst Holiday Park in Ivyhouse Lane, Hastings more than 15 hours later.

Sussex Police said the man had not appeared to be in difficulties and swam across the lake away from officers.

Mr Stent, 30, is believed to have been in the holiday park’s bar on Saturday when police were called at 11pm to reports of a man being drunk and abusive.

Witnesses said Mr Stent tried to attack a police officer who was attempting to handcuff him before he was pepper-sprayed.

They also described how he ran from the bar’s beer garden straight into the fishing lake.

One resident who witnessed the incident 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 heartbreaking.”

Residents said the lake was never used for swimming and was full of reeds.

Another witness, 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.”

Rother district policing commander, 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 on to the lake but could not find any trace of him.

“A large-scale search of the lake and the surrounding area was launched by officers with other members of the emergency services. Sadly, at around 3pm on Sunday 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.”

The Argus asked Sussex Police why officers did not enter the water.

A spokesman said: “He did not call out for help or appear in distress and swam away further across the lake.

“When he disappeared, officers used boats to try and locate him but the lake is very deep and it was dark, which hampered rescue attempts.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said the incident had been referred to them.