'Glenn would be alive if he'd received better care'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Glenn Howard died from irreparable brain damage after being held face down by police and starved of oxygen for at least 10 minutes. As the police van pulled up at the emergency, an officer was still straddling his limp body.

His story is sadly not unusual, but what makes it even more shocking is that the musician was not a criminal. The 47-year-old's "offence" was to be mentally ill, having suffered from schizophrenia from the age of 20.

Like thousands of others around the country, Mr Howard's family had spent years banging on doctors' doors, desperate for help, only to be turned away.

Eventually, Mr Howard, who was tormented by voices and at times suicidal, was admitted to a psychiatric ward at Sutton Hospital in Surrey. But his family's relief was short-lived. The talented guitarist, who wrote his own music, wandered out of the ward because he was worried that his pet goldfish had not been fed.

The police were called to his flat and there was a struggle during which Mr Howard suffered fatal brain damage. He never woke up from his coma and died on New Year's Day 1999, after 13 months in a persistent vegetative state.

The tragedy plunged Mr Howard's brother Barry, who used to go fishing and motor-racing with Glenn, into a deep depression. Speaking from his home in Surrey, he said that his brother would be alive today if he had received better care.

"After all this time we have still not had the answers we need," he says.

"It's drained me, destroyed my life and it killed my father. I think he felt guilty because he could not save his son. Me and Glenn were best friends and always there for each other."

Barry Howard says his brother had never been violent and that staff at the hospital were not hugely concerned when he went missing in December 1997. He often went home to visit his fish. But what happened next is still unclear. A total of nine officers were sent out to deal with Glenn. They claimed that he started kicking out as they tried to handcuff him. By the time he had reached hospital, his heart had stopped.

Barry Howard, who has kept all his brother's instruments and possessions, said: "There is no doubt that if they could have spared someone from the hospital to go with the police then he would be alive today."

The case highlights the stigma that mentally ill people face, especially those with more severe conditions. The officers involved in restraining Mr Howard told his inquest that they believed they were assisting in the "restraint and detention of a violent prisoner".

The officers denied any wrongdoing and maintained that they used "reasonable and necessary" restraint. However, a police officer was eventually found guilty of neglect of care after Mr Howard suffered a heart attack and choked on his own vomit. It emerged that the musician, who was 5ft 6in tall and of slim build, had been held in a bear hug and struck with a truncheon.

Barry Howard welcomes the fact the Government has dropped the draft Mental Health Bill but says what is really needed is more money and an end to the "criminalising" of mentally ill people.

He said: "Glenn was my brother - nothing was ever too much trouble. But there should have been professionals out there who could look after him. My hope is that mental health services will improve, but the truth is that it's going to cost money. There's no point having new laws if there is no extra cash.

"Glenn was ill and it could be difficult when he was very depressed and spent days awake. But he was my brother. I loved him and he had a life. That life was taken away from him, and now I have no one."

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