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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Vulnerable man who died in police custody at hospital 'was father figure and role model'

Written by Catherine Wylie

A mentally-ill man who died after he was restrained by police was a gifted footballer and viewed by many as "a father figure and a role model", his family have said.

Kevin Clarke (pictured), a 35-year-old black man, died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital before 4.20pm on Friday March 9 following an incident earlier that afternoon in the Polsted Road area of Catford, south-east London.

An investigation has been launched by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), with statements taken from nine police officers.

Jade Cunningham, from the IOPC, told an inquest hearing at Southwark Coroner's Court on Wednesday morning that criminal proceedings remain a "possibility", but no decision has been reached.

"It's always a possibility in our independent investigations," she said.

Coroner Andrew Harris suspended the inquest pending the investigation and passed on his condolences to Mr Clarke's family, including his mother, who were in court for the hearing.

The coroner told the family that results of toxicology tests may take up to five months to come back.

He also acknowledged it was a death in which the police "may be criticised".

In a statement after the hearing, Mr Clarke's family, who are being supported by the charity Inquest, said: "On Friday 9 March 2018, our family was informed that our beloved son, brother and cousin, Kevin Andre Clarke, was dead.

"Kevin was well-known and loved in our community and we will truly miss him.

"He was a father figure and a role model to so many, even when he was going through his difficult times.

"He was also a gifted footballer, who would coach young people and dreamt about pursuing this; unfortunately his dream was cut short.

"We do not know exactly what happened or the circumstances which led to Kevin's untimely death.

"We are left with so many questions and hope that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will swiftly complete their investigations into Kevin's death and that those officers involved will offer their full co-operation.

"Finally, we ask that you keep us in your prayers. We do appreciate all the love and support we have been shown during this difficult time."

The Metropolitan Police said they were called to Polsted Road at around 2.20pm after reports of a man seen attempting to gain access to the rear gardens of properties at the location.

Officers found a man appearing to be in mental health crisis, a spokesman said.

London Ambulance Service was called and Mr Clarke was detained at the scene.

Detective Chief Superintendent Tara McGovern, of Lewisham Police, said: "Our thoughts are with the family of the deceased at this extremely difficult time.

"Where a person dies following contact with the police, it is right and proper that police refer the incident to an independent body to review the circumstances surrounding the death, which happened immediately in relation to this incident."

IOPC regional director Jonathan Green said last week: "Our inquiries have been greatly helped by the body-worn video activated by many of the officers involved.

"Officers found Kevin in the grounds of St Dunstan's College, behind Polsted Road.

"Shortly after they arrived at the scene, officers called for medical assistance. They restrained him before an ambulance arrived.

"While paramedics were at the scene his condition deteriorated and he was taken to Lewisham Hospital, where Kevin was sadly pronounced dead."

Mr Green said the role of the IOPC in these circumstances is to carefully establish the facts of the incident including fully examining the evidence and to look at the police actions and responses to Mr Clarke, adding that the IOPC understands that he had a diagnosed mental health illness.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Inquest / PA Wire.