Vulnerable man 'unlawfully killed'
Wednesday 07 December 2011
A vulnerable man who died after suffering 30 years of torment by yobs was unlawfully killed, a coroner ruled today.
David Askew, 64, who had a mental age of 10, was plagued by gangs of youths for decades outside his house on a sprawling council estate in Hattersley, east Manchester.
Today John Pollard, coroner for South Manchester, blamed "feral youths" for the victim's torment and ruled that despite lawyers deciding no one could be charged with manslaughter, Mr Askew had been unlawfully killed.
Mr Askew lived with his brother, who also had learning difficulties, and elderly mother Rose, 90, who told the inquest into her son's death of the constant harassment from youngsters.
They called police 88 times between January 2004 and March last year before Mr Askew, who suffered from heart disease, collapsed and died on March 10 2010 after being pestered for cigarettes. Youths had reportedly thrown a wheelie bin around and tampered with his mother's mobility scooter.
Kial Cottingham, 19, who lived doors away later pleaded guilty to harassing Mr Askew and was jailed for 16 months last year.
Lawyers for the Crown Prosecution Service said there was no evidence to charge Cottingham with manslaughter.
Mr Pollard said the law precluded him from naming any individual or persons as responsible for causing the death.
He added: "For the last thirty years there has been harassment of this family, at times worse than other times.
"Throughout the whole (period) they have lived with anti social behaviour directed against them in a way and at a level which is, and never was, acceptable."
He said on the night Mr Askew died a youth was seen demanding cigarettes from Mr Askew, even patting him down to check.
Two youths were seen at the property again at 9.38pm and within eight to 10 minutes Mr Askew had collapsed and died.
The coroner cited the evidence of pathologist Dr Charles Wilson, who told the inquest although Mr Askew already suffered from heart disease and while it could not be scientifically proven the stress of harassment on the night he died led directly to his death, the circumstances of the case "strongly suggest" it did in his opinion.
Mr Pollard said he was "aware" of the CPS decision not to charge anyone with manslaughter but he was satisfied there was enough evidence to conclude Mr Askew was unlawfully killed.
The three-day inquest heard of a "multi-agency approach" with "partnership working" between a myriad of agencies including endless meetings between the police, Tameside Council and housing associations, among others.
But Mr Pollard said there was an "awful lot of talking taking place and not a great deal of action", and he was scathing about the work of some of the agencies involved.
He said: "I have noticed evidence of a quite staggering degree of inertia and complancy.
"The fact that there is 38 separate offences reported against this family within a three-year period shows the appalling way in which this element of feral youths can bring misery to a decent, vulnerable family."
Mr Pollard said he would be making recommendations in writing to both the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and the chief executive of Tameside Council.
The inquest heard that only "substantive" incidents were reported to police by the family and many other "minor irritations" went unreported.
There were also some "ridiculous lengths" in terms of police response times - sometimes officers not attending at the house for up to 12 hours later.
CCTV fitted outside the house by Tameside Council was "useless" after dark.
Even on the day of Mr Askew's death, Cottingham had been at the house and his probation officer called to warn him he was breaking his community order after being seen there the day before, the inquest heard.
Cottingham, currently serving a sentence for robbery, apologised to the Askew family when he gave evidence to the inquest earlier this week.
The inquest heard Mr Askew's official cause of death was natural causes following heart disease and Cottingham could not be placed in the vicinity of the house when Mr Askew collapsed and died.
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