Friend of Engand fan who died in Bulgaria disputes drug claim

18 October 2019, 09:22 | Updated: 18 October 2019, 09:52

A friend of an English football fan who died in police custody in Bulgaria has disputed suggestions he used drugs before his death.

Robert Spray, 32, died in the capital Sofia on Monday after travelling to watch England play Bulgaria in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

Mr Spray, from Heath Hayes in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, was said to have been found in a "helpless condition" in the centre of the city and was taken to hospital.

Bulgarian authorities said he then began to act aggressively and the police were called.

Mr Spray later died while being transported to a police station and it was suggested that he had used drugs.

He had travelled to Bulgaria as part of a group of 11 friends, including childhood friend Andrew McMath, who organised the trip for his own 30th birthday celebrations.

Mr McMath told The Daily Telegraph his friend had been dismissed as a "hooligan" after his death and suggestions Mr Spray was using drugs were being used to avoid other explanations.

He said: "Rob wasn't taking any drugs. There were no drugs.

"The whole trip, I've not seen him try to get hold of or use any drugs. It just feels like an easy thing to say."

Mr Spray's family said they have been frustrated in their attempts to gain more information from the Foreign Office and Bulgarian police.

They have also called for an independent inquiry.

The call is said to have been backed by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee human rights group and Staffordshire Police, who have said they are trying to obtain further information.

Mr McMath said Mr Spray left their hotel room on Monday morning. His friends assumed he was intending to buy food or cigarettes.

The group later saw reports on social media that a 32-year-old had been taken to hospital before being informed Mr Spray had died.

Mr McMath said the English football fans had been unfairly treated during the trip.

He continued: "It felt like everyone just looked at us as England hooligans or yobs and, from what people have said, it feels like that's how he would have been treated at the hospital as well.

"He has never caused any trouble. He's the first person you want to come on holiday because he makes you laugh and he's just great to be around.

"You can get the idiots, but we were minding our own business and the police came over and literally pushed one lad in the back of the neck and said, 'Get gone or police cell 10 minutes.'"

He added that Mr Spray would have been "scared to death" to have woken up in an overseas hospital as an infrequent traveller who had been too scared to travel to Russia for last year's World Cup.

The trip to Bulgaria was Mr Spray's first trip to see England play abroad.

Toxicology reports from the Bulgarian authorities are due to be released on Friday, according to local media.

It is not yet known when Mr Spray's body will be returned home; however, a campaign to raise funds to repatriate his body had reached more than £21,000 on Thursday.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office previously 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."

England won the tie against Bulgaria 6 - 0 in a match that was overshadowed by racism.