' />

The partner of a man who was found dead in a Rotorua police cell after a domestic incident says she was assured he would be "totally safe" in custody.

Donna-Maree Francis, partner of Rotorua chef Anthony McGuire and mother of his 18-month-old daughter, recalled yesterday how she phoned the police on the night of his death in May last year in an unsuccessful attempt to have any charges against him dropped.

"I told a police officer that my partner wasn't a suicidal person but I was very concerned for him, because what he did was out of character and I was worried he might do something stupid or someone might harm him," she said.

"But he [the police officer] said: 'Don't worry, he's totally safe here, nothing can happen'."

Ms Francis was commenting on a coroner's inquest report which found that 33-year-old Mr McGuire's death was self-inflicted but followed a series of 19 "frankly unbelievable" lapses by police which created a circumstance in which he was able to take his own life.

Coroner Wallace Bain heard at the inquest the police tried calling four lawyers in response to his request for legal aid, but were stymied by answer-phone messages each time.

That has led to a call by Dr Bain for the Legal Services Agency to "give urgency" to the establishment of a national legal help phone line to be available to all prisoners at any time of the day or night.