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October 2nd 2021

Inquests

Family hoping for changes to police searches as concerns highlighted at inquest into death of ‘fantastic’ father who took own life

Leanne Stephenson

Leanne Stephenson

Associate, Civil Liberties

Family hoping for changes to police searches as concerns highlighted at inquest into death of ‘fantastic’ father who took own life

The family of a man found dead at the bottom of a North Yorkshire cliff three days after going missing hope the concerns they raised at an inquest into his death will lead to police reviewing how they handle searches for people with mental health issues.

The family of a man found dead at the bottom of a North Yorkshire cliff three days after going missing hope the concerns they raised at an inquest into his death will lead to police reviewing how they handle searches for people with mental health issues.

A two-day inquest concluded that Andrew Neil Clark, 41, died after taking his own life. His body was found at the bottom of Whitby cliffs three days after he had been reported as missing.

The hearing was told Andrew, originally of Brough, East Yorkshire, had a history of mental health problems. The father-of-four had been worried about his financial situation and family matters in the lead up to going missing.

Andrew had also spent 28 days in two separate psychiatric wards after being involuntarily sectioned in January 2020, just two months before he went missing.

Hudgell Solicitors represented Andrew’s family at inquest, instructing Shada Mellor of Trinity Chambers to question witnesses and raise concerns on their behalf.

The family were unhappy with North Yorkshire Police’s response to Andrew being reported missing and the information they were given, and the care of NHS Mental Health services after being discharged from being sectioned.

Family were not kept informed of key elements of search

The inquest was told Andrew was reported missing on March 6 2020 by his care coordinator after she arrived at his parents’ house in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, where he was living at the time, and discovered neither he nor his car were around.

North Yorkshire Police categorised him as a ‘medium risk missing person’, despite being told he had expressed thoughts of suicide in the past. The risk level wasn’t raised until two days later when Andrew’s car was found abandoned near Whitby Holiday Park with a note left in it.

The inquest heard that in the two days leading up to this, his registration plate had been scanned by an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera on the way to Whitby, but Andrew’s family were not informed of this development for 20 hours. The family was also not informed about a bank transaction made on the way to the coast.

Andrew’s body was found at the bottom of Whitby cliffs the day after his car was discovered.

His father Philip said between 30 and 40 friends and family would have ‘flooded’ the area in search of him had they been informed of the developments as and when they were discovered.

After the family raised concerns a report was undertaken into North Yorkshire Police’s search strategy by a staff investigator.

He concluded there should have been better communication with the family, and admitted that had Andrew been considered a higher level risk, a media appeal may have been issued sooner.

When questioned by Ms Mellor, he also admitted that the 20 hours delay in police informing the family of Andrew’s car being scanned by the ANPR camera should also have been included in his report, saying he had omitted it by mistake.

Giving evidence Superintendent Matt Walker, head of professional standards at North Yorkshire Police, also admitted that an appeal could have been circulated at the time of Andrew’s disappearance, and that the family should have been kept updated and told his car had gone to Whitby sooner. He said it was an issue he would ‘look at’.

Coroner John Broadbridge recorded that Andrew died as a result of injuries he sustained from falling and deemed it to be a suicide. He stopped short of making recommendations for improvement or changes to policies.

Family determined to ensure lessons are learned

Solicitor Leanne Stephenson, of Hudgell Solicitors, said: “This inquest was a difficult and highly-emotional event for Andrew’s family, but also one at which they were determined to raise a number of concerns over his care, and certainly the police response when he was reported as missing.

“We were pleased to be able to support the family in doing this, and although the Coroner stopped short of making official recommendations for change, the family are hopeful that it results in the police force reviewing how they respond in future situations.

“They have been determined to ensure lessons are learned from Andrew’s death to ensure that anybody in a similar situation in the future has the best possible chance of being found and supported to prevent similar tragic outcomes.

“They should be proud of how they have handled the entire process.”

Andrew’s brother, Michael said: “Andy was a fantastic brother, son and father. He was very much loved and we miss him every day.

“We tried as much as we can to help him throughout his illness and to do justice to his memory throughout this inquest. We are leaving here feeling that we did the best for him, but we don’t think the systems are in place to help people with mental health issues.

“We were pleased that we did highlight some of the issues and are extremely hopeful that the Superintendent keeps to his word and does review all of the policies and procedures in respect of missing persons, especially when mental health issues are involved.”

Andrew’s sister Michelle and daughter Ebony (pictured with her father in main image) are currently raising funds in Andrew’s memory for a mental health charity and the Royal National Lifeboat Association by doing a charity skydive. Donate here.

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