Family seeks answers as police probe dad's death in council-run hostel
- Credit: Rob Hill
At 8.15am on Tuesday January 12, police arrived at the Havering home of the parents of Ken Hill.
His mum Marlene, 67, and Vic, 71, had last heard from their son the week before. The 45-year old had called them from his hostel, Abercrombie House in Harold Hill, and they said he sounded ill.
Evidence would later suggest that the father-of-two had been dead for two days before being found.
“All police told us was that he had passed away,” said Marlene. “We asked how it had happened. They said, ‘We don’t know’.”
Marlene immediately called Ken’s brother Rob and Rob's wife Katie, in north Essex.
“Marlene was heartbroken,” said Katie. “And it’s just been a downward spiral ever since.”
The circumstances of Ken’s death have disturbed his family.
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A father to two daughters, he had worked as a warehouse supervisor in Tilbury until having mental health problems last year.
Before that, he had been a distribution coordinator at another firm for 15 years.
On his days off, he enjoyed fishing with his brother and was a keen golfer.
“Everyone around here that knew Ken all say he was such a caring, friendly person,” said Marlene.
“We miss him greatly and obviously, the circumstances surrounding his death, we are not happy with.”
'Petrified of needles’
Ken had a history of mental illness, said his family, and had occasionally used cocaine recreationally.
But, they insisted, he had no history of using intravenous drugs.
According to sister-in-law Katie, he was “petrified of needles”.
However, when she and Rob attended Abercrombie House to collect Ken’s possessions, they said they were shocked to find his room strewn with needles.
Tests later found heroin in Ken’s body.
Both Ken’s community nurse and his GP expressed surprise, said Katie and Rob, saying he had seemed to be “on the road to recovery” from his mental health problems.
Shortly before the pandemic, Ken had suffered a relationship breakdown and moved in with his parents.
He then moved to Rob and Katie’s in March 2020, so his parents could shield.
In May he had a breakdown and was admitted to Goodmayes Hospital.
From there he was moved to Abercrombie House, so he would be close to his Havering GP.
His parents visited to deliver warm clothes when winter set in, but only chatted to him outside due to Covid restrictions.
In early December, said Marlene, she noticed Ken “sounded quite slurred in his speech” on the phone. She asked if he was okay.
“He said, ‘Yea, I’m fine, I’ve just got a bit of a cold’,” she said.
They last spoke on Thursday, January 7.
“He’d just had his counselling,” she recalled. “He was coughing quite a lot."
They agreed to speak again on Monday, January 11, but when they hadn’t heard from Ken by lunchtime, they began calling him. They got no answer.
The following morning, the police arrived.
Ken’s family said they were concerned he had received insufficient care.
“He was vulnerable and needed a lot of support,” said Katie.
Documents released by Havering Council show Ken had “complex PTSD”. A July 2020 email said he would “need to be supported”.
Relatives said Ken was last seen on hostel CCTV on Saturday, January 9 – over 48 hours before he was found.
They fear he may have laid dead for two days, unnoticed.
An email from the coroner, who is investigating the death, said his body was “showing signs of decomposition”.
Home Office pathologist Dr Basil Purdue told the Recorder that in ordinary conditions it would take 24 hours for the first signs of decomposition to start showing.
Marlene said: “If someone goes into hospital, surely there should be some sort of safeguarding for them when they come out? Why are people put in hostels and not checked up on?”
The family has also raised concerns about drugs at the council premises, where homeless families with young children are housed.
In Ken’s room, Rob and Katie found a notice from the Met Police. It had warned that “drug dealing and consumption may be taking place in Abercrombie House” almost 18 months earlier.
A young mother also complained this week about drug taking at the hostel.
After meeting Ken's relatives last week, councillor Bob Perry said he would request an investigation.
“I intend to help them get to the truth and also protect vulnerable individuals still living in this environment, with this culture of drugs that appears to be present in Abercrombie House,” he said.
Havering Council offered its “deepest sympathies”, saying: “Ken was a valued member of the Abercrombie House community and his death has left an impact on the staff who knew him.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further during an open police investigation, other than to say that we are cooperating fully with the Metropolitan Police.
Police said the death was being treated as “non suspicious”.