Dad questions force used by police in struggle before son died of heart attack

Police presence in Wetherby Road, Grangetown, Sunderland
Police presence in Wetherby Road, Grangetown, Sunderland
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A father questioned the amount of force used by a police officer in a struggle with his son shortly before his death, an inquest jury heard.

The claim was made by Brian McVey, giving evidence at a hearing into his son Gary’s death.

The 36-year-old died after a struggle with Pc Graeme Kelly, his father and brother Lee at his home in Wetherby Road, Sunderland.

Pc Kelly had attended the family home to investigate calls made from Mr McVey’s mobile phone regarding a possible firearms incident, shortly after 8pm on December 18 last year.

But after Mr McVey tried to escape, he was forced back by his father, and a struggle between the three men led to them all falling into the porch area of the home, Sunderland Coroner’s Court was told.

The struggle continued with Mr McVey – a paranoid schizophrenic who had stopped taking his medication – eventually left face down on the floor.

The jury had previously 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 later pronounced dead.

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, adding: “I don’t think there is any doubt that stress caused him to collapse and die when he did.”

Mr McVey’s father Brian told the inquest jury: “Pc Kelly went down to a kneeling position because Gary couldn’t get his hand underneath him, so Pc Kelly put the left cuff on him.

“Gary was pushing himself up, and Pc Kelly jumped up to a squatting position.

“He put his hand on the back of Gary’s head and started kneeling on his shoulders with his right knee. I think almost all of his weight was on him, because he made a radio call and was almost tipping over.

“I think he maintained the weight for about three minutes, and Gary went lifeless during that time.

“He stopped struggling and went lifeless, and I told the officer and shouted for him to get off Gary.”

When asked by Oliver Thorne, acting for Northumbria Police, if he felt Pc Kelly had used too much force, Mr McVey replied: “yes,” to which Mr Thorne replied: “I would suggest that you are bereaved, angry and looking to pass blame. Over the period of time since his sad death your stance has hardened considerably.”

Mr McVey’s brother Lee, who had been called from upstairs by his father when the struggle started, told the hearing he “relived” the episode every day.

He said his brother had been “struggling uncontrollably” before it stopped.

He added: “I felt Gary stop struggling, and I knew there was something wrong.

“I turned around and jumped up. My dad had his arm around Gary, and Pc Kelly had his hand on the back of his neck and his knee there.

“He had his other hand on the radio on the opposite side of him, so it must have been quite a bit of weight.

“My brother died in front of me on the floor. I’ve relived that every day since it happened. I know exactly what happened and it’s exactly as I described it.”

Following Mr McVey’s death, the incident was investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Shaun Coleman, an IPCC investigator, told the hearing: “I think that Pc Kelly did all that he could under those difficult circumstances.

“Gary was a strong, powerful man and there was some danger of difficulty in holding him on the floor.

“It was absolutely reasonable to use a knee to hold him in position. There was quite a dramatic struggle taking place. The amount of force used by the officer was appropriate in the circumstances.”

l The inquest is expected to conclude today.