Police tell inquest that black Lewisham man who died after being restrained by officers was not unwell enough to be sectioned

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

Police said a black man who died after being restrained by officers in Lewisham was not unwell enough to be sectioned shortly before his death, an inquest heard.

Kevin Clarke, 35, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was restrained by police on March 9, 2018 before he “became unwell” and was sent to Lewisham Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The inquest into his death at Southwark Coroners’ Court, which opened on Monday, will investigate whether the actions of police contributed to or caused his death.

At the time of his death, he had been staying at the Jigsaw Project assisted living in Catford for two years.

He had his first mental health episode in 2002, which led to him being sectioned aged 17, something that would continue until his death.

The inquest heard that Kevin frequently suffered mental health crises – about every six months – and would attend a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

It heard Kevin was dependent on cannabis and had a history of violent episodes because of his illness, but when he complied with taking his medication and was doing well, he was “sociable” and “stable”.

The inquest heard that on the day he died Kevin was behaving “unusually” outside Jigsaw.

Healthcare workers said he seemed “lost and confused,” staying outside in the cold in the same position for hours.

The inquest heard that after his care team became concerned he was “becoming unwell”, they called police and asked that he be sectioned.

Police arrived around an hour later, as they said “it wasn’t an emergency … as he had not threatened anyone”. After speaking with Kevin they decided not to detain him as he was “not high enough risk”.

The coroner read out a statement from a forensic mental community support worker who worked with Kevin at Jigsaw and was on shift the day he died.

She said: “I wanted them to section Kevin and I believe this was relayed to police over the phone and on arrival.”

“They (police) came into the office and told us they could not detain Kevin under Section 136 as he was not assessed as a high enough risk.”

The worker said she was “frustrated” with their response “as [she] was concerned for Kevin’s welfare and everyone else’s”.

His mother Wendy Clarke, who gave evidence on Tuesday, said she received a phone call from her son the day he died, during which he said he was coming to her house, but he cut the phone off “abruptly”.

Ms Clarke told the inquest that she tried to get through to him again but he didn’t answer.

Ms Clarke asked if Kevin was being brought to hospital, but the officer said he wasn’t and then asked what medication her son was on.

Ms Clarke said despite her son suffering mental health episodes “he would always find a way to get back to his normal state”.

She said: “I had no idea this could have happened, I was not even able to see my son afterward as my family and I were told we had to wait before we could see him.”

Earlier she told the inquest that Kevin was sociable, loved cooking, and used to play football for his local club.

“He was very funny and loved to make others laugh. We saw him as a friendly, gentle giant,” she said.

The inquest continues.

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