Liverpool swordsman killing: How did my gentle son come to be shot dead in the street?

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The Independent Online

Strong emotions surrounding the death of Andrew Kernan, the first person to be killed by a Merseyside Police bullet, militate against the extraction of cool logic.

"Executed," stated red graffiti paint washed by police this week from the wall, laden with 15 bouquets, where he died while brandishing a samurai sword near Liverpool's arterial Picton Road 10 days ago.

But one puzzle keeps surfacing, which is talked about not only by Mr Kernan's angry, grieving mother, Marie, but by the likes of Dorothy Atkin, an elderly local florist, who describes Mr Kernan's tendency to stride around eccentrically during regular visits for flowers to place on his father's grave; and by Kevin Moreland, a packer at the plumbers' merchants where Mr Kernan habitually arrived at 3pm for tea and a 15-minute chat before collecting the local evening paper.

Mr Moreland would knock a football around the works yard with Mr Kernan but for two minutes at most because his friend was not so good on his feet. "He got wobbly so we stopped because it made him look stupid," he said.

The puzzle is how Mr Kernan, a clinically diagnosed schizophrenic with obviously dubious balance, forced his way past seven police officers and dashed down the dark, steep, narrow flight of 13 carpeted stairs leading from the two-bed flat he shared with his mother to emerge on the 500 yards of uneven flagstones that he crossed before his death, caused by a single shot to the chest.

Mrs Kernan's solicitor, Rex Makin, said: "The police would seem to have no idea how to deal with a schizophrenic. They treated him like a criminal when he had no police record whatsoever."

Merseyside Police's failure to keep Mr Kernan inside the flat may prove more difficult to explain than the two bullets fired at him, one of which missed.

Mrs Kernan's apparently "gentle" son had turned so furiously aggressive during this typical "bad turn" that she had used her hands and feet to keep him shut in his bedroom for an hour on the evening of his death. She says the Merseyside Care NHS Trust's Broadoak Hospital, where Mr Kernan was an out-patient for 15 years, took an hour to dispatch crisis support to her.

When one male community nurse and a diminutive female nurse turned up, she ordered them to leave and return with the four staff usually needed to inject Mr Kernan and remove him to hospital. Fatefully, she then rang the police.

The marksman who shot Mr Kernan would probably have known him only as a schizophrenic who had just ripped off a police car's wing mirror with a samurai sword, the weapon used by deranged individuals to kill the Liberal Democrat agent Andrew Pennington and injure several people in a church congregation in Thornton Heath, south London.

His carers might have known that the sword in question, a 15-inch red ornament with tassles, had only been moved from the living room to hang in its sheath above Mr Kernan's wooden-framed single bed because Mrs Kernan had, in her words "had it in the house for years and was sick of looking at it".

Close inspection of Mr Kernan's bedroom this week by Greater Manchester Police, the neighbouring force running an inquiry supervised by the Police Complaints Authority, will have provided no more evidence of an interest in weaponry than a book on the SAS, buried beneath Let's Talk German, Working with Computers and Modern Biology. (He was, by every available account, a voracious devourer of knowledge.)

And before he took his place in history as the tanned, earringed, deranged mental patient shot for the public good, Andrew Kernan was also known as a man and boy of talents.

Horticulture was among them. He graduated from growing tomatoes in the garden at All Hallows School, Speke, to cultivating vegetables in his small patch at the modest home he shared in Speke with his parents and sister, Veronica, now a constable in the Metropolitan Police. "He'd go around selling them," Mrs Kernan recalled. "'See that cabbage? They're selling for 40p,' he'd tell me. 'So I'll get at least 20p for it.' He's always had money in his pocket."

By the time he was 16, Andrew was studying horticulture at the nearby Calderstones school. Six years later, he had become a gardener at the city council's Calderstones Park, and he began "coming home talking nonsense" about how people "had got it in for him and were watching him", according to his mother. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and his days of full-time work were over.

His new routines took him to poetry and music workshops on Thursday mornings and National Schizophrenic Fellowship courses ­ computing on Tuesday mornings and cookery on Friday mornings. The class on the Friday after his death had been cancelled for the installation of new cookers, which he was due to have helped with. In recognition of his enthusiasm, the tutor was to have named one facility the Andrew Kernan kitchen.

In Mr Kernan's small bedroom, still stacked with his James Bond and Clint Eastwood film and Beatles music collections, his seven-year-old nephew, James Doyle, is a dominant figure, captured in eight unframed snaps and a framed portrait. James was to have visited next week. Mr Kernan's friends say a surprise visit to Southport had been planned by his uncle, Andrew Doyle. "He might have been schizophrenic but it didn't mean that we didn't entrust James into his care," Mr Doyle said.

His mother said: "There were no girlfriends. He'd say, 'Mum, I can't have children in case I pass this [illness] on. When I go, it goes with me'."

None of which made Mr Kernan any less of a threat as he stood before the Wellington pub in Wavertree, arguing with armed officers who told him to put down his weapon.

Although Merseyside Police ­ committed to silence while the inquiry is conducted ­ has offered no insight into whether he could have been merely disabled by, say, a shot to the leg, a serving Merseyside officer said Mr Kernan was "armed, distracted and trying to get into a public house". The officer said: "I can only imagine I would have taken the same split-second decision."

The central focus of the ensuing inquiry, said Michael Howlett, director of the Zito Trust (established in the name of Jonathan Zito who was killed by a mental patient in 1994) must be "what went wrong with his care that he was outside with a samurai sword". The NHS trust must examine whether it was through a shortage of staff that only two mental health workers were sent to subdue him, when four were normally sent, and neither one of the two was a doctor or negotiator, Mr Howlett said.

The chance of Mr Kernan's death raising such issues is substantial considering his mother's anger and his own popularity. A note pinned to one of 20 bouquets outside his home states: "If there was ever a gentleman, you was one."

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