Sunderland man died of fatal heart attack while being restrained by police

Police presence in Wetherby Road, Grangetown
Police presence in Wetherby Road, Grangetown
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A man who collapsed while he was being restrained by police and family members at his Sunderland home died as a result of a massive heart attack, an inquest heard,

Gary McVey, 36, became unresponsive during his arrest after he struggled with Pc Graham Kelly, his father Brian and brother Lee.

Clearly if he had not been in a stressful situation he would not have died when he did. Due to the level of heart disease he could potentially have dropped dead at any time, but it’s well recognised that heart disease can cause sudden death in stressful situations. I don’t think there is any doubt that stress caused him to collapse and die when he did

Dr Nigel Cooper, pathologist

Pc Kelly attended the family home, in Wetherby Road, Grangetown, shortly after 8pm on December 18 last year to investigate calls from Mr McVey’s mobile phone, reporting a possible firearms incident.

While at the address, Mr McVey tried to leave through the front door, but was prevented by his father.

Mr McVey – a paranoid schizophrenic who had stopped taking his medication – struggled to break free as Pc Kelly tried to arrest him, the inquest jury at Sunderland Coroner’s Court was told.

“I’m trying to take hold of his arms,” Pc Kelly told the hearing. “I’m telling him to calm down, his dad was telling him to calm down. It was extremely difficult to detain him. He was very strong. His dad is behind him and his brother is behind the dad.

“He had these spurts of energy. He made a sort of roar, his dad still had hold of him from behind.”

Mr McVey ended up lying face down with his body across the threshold between the porch and the hallway, and Pc Kelly was able to handcuff him.

“I think at some point, once he’s handcuffed, I’ve got my right knee across his back as a control measure,” Pc Kelly said, adding that he was applying light pressure only.

The jury heard that as police back-up arrived, Pc Kelly realised that Mr McVey had stopped moving and his face had turned grey. He had no pulse and had stopped breathing and officers began CPR before paramedics took over.

He was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital, but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 9.53pm.

Pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper who carried out a post mortem examination, said the cause of death was a heart attack due to an enlarged heart and severe blockage of the coronary arteries, the most common cause of sudden death among men of Mr McVey’s age, a third of whom show no prior warning signs.

“Clearly if he had not been in a stressful situation, he would not have died when he did,” Dr Cooper said. “Due to the level of heart disease he could potentially have dropped dead at any time, but it’s well recognised that heart disease can cause sudden death in stressful situations. I don’t think there is any doubt that stress caused him to collapse and die when he did.”

Dr Cooper said there was no pathological evidence that Mr McVey’s breathing had been compromised during the restraint, but added: “A big man lying face down across a threshold is not a good position to be in, but it’s impossible to be certain whether or not it compromised his breathing enough to contribute to the death.”

He also found rib fractures, loose ribs and a broken breastbone, which he said were consistent with resuscitation attempts.

The inquest, expected to last until tomorrow, was today due to hear evidence from Mr McVey’s mum, dad and and brother, as well as police officers and mental health professionals.