'Cover up or terrible mistake?': Family told hostel death inquest will not take place

Ken Hill fishing

The death of Ken Hill will no longer be the subject of an inquest, meaning concerns over Havering Council's hostel Abercrombie House will not be publicly investigated. - Credit: The Hill family

The family of a man found dead in a Havering Council hostel have been told an inquest will not investigate his cause of death, which they allege has changed from initial reports.

Ken Hill, 45, was found in a room at Abercrombie House, Harold Hill, on January 11.

His brother Rob and sister-in-law Katie claim they were initially told by a coroner’s officer that he appeared to have died of a "massive heroin overdose”.

When they went to collect his belongings, they say his room was strewn with needles.

They say they were later told heroin and cocaine were in his system and told by police that an inquest would be held.

The family approached the Recorder in May with concerns about whether vulnerable people were being properly safeguarded at the council facility.

They said Ken had no history of intravenous drug use before being housed there after a mental health crisis.

In August we revealed police were called to the site, on average, once every five days and a Met Police letter found in Ken’s room said officers knew of possible drug dealing on the premises.

A spokesperson from Havering Council said Abercrombie House remains a "vital shelter" for the borough’s most vulnerable people and it is "committed to ensuring the safety of residents" by working with police. 

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U-turn?

Ken's family has now been given a death certificate saying he died due to clogged arteries.

With his death now attributed to natural causes, there will be no inquest – meaning no public investigation into Abercrombie House.

In a letter to the family, senior coroner Graeme Irvine wrote: “Mr Hill was under the effect of cocaine and morphine at the time of his death.

“Critically, however, both of these substances were at such low levels that the independent experts instructed by the court did not find that they were at concentrations to make them contributory factors to the death.”

Asked whether it accepted that Ken’s family was initially told he died of a heroin overdose, the service refused to comment, saying: "Coroners are unable to comment publicly on individual cases outside of judicial proceedings."

It also refused to disclose documents to the Recorder, despite the family requesting it do so.

“I don’t know if it’s a cover-up or whether someone has just made a terrible mistake by saying in the first instance that it was a drug overdose,” said Ken’s mother, Marlene.

Rob Hill holding a photo of brother Ken Hill

Ken Hill's brother Rob, seen here holding a photograph of Ken having fun at a party, wanted an inquest to investigate the family's concerns about Abercrombie House. - Credit: The Hill family

The phone

Last month, police returned Ken’s belongings to his parents - his phone, a belt, some medication and a letter.

“I had to sign for the belongings but the strange thing was that the bag which contained Ken’s mobile phone was open but all the other bags were sealed,” Marlene claimed.

When she switched it on to try to retrieve family photos, Marlene found it had been almost completely wiped and its sim card was missing, she said.

She knows a sim card was inside when police seized it, as text messages dated days afterwards were still on the device.

The Met did not answer questions about why the bag was open, why the phone was wiped or why the sim card was missing.

Ken Hill at a golf tournament

Ken Hill was a father, son, brother - and a keen golfer, seen here being interviewed after winning a tournament. - Credit: The Hill family

Monitoring

There are texts from a friend on the phone showing Ken had left messages unanswered since January 9.

On January 10 they wrote: “Getting worried about u now u not answering all day not like u x."

Relatives say this suggests Ken laid dead for two days before his body was found, raising questions as to how regularly vulnerable residents were checked on.

Havering Council documents obtained by the family show that it had been recorded that Ken had complex PTSD and would "need to be supported".

“I personally think that there should have been an inquest,” said Marlene.

“He was last seen on CCTV at half past five Saturday and they found him at 10 o’clock Monday night.”

But the coroner told the family: “Mr Hill resided in a hostel, not a hospital ward. The duty owed to Mr Hill was not to observe him with sufficient frequency to act upon a heart attack.”

Abercrombie House hostel

Abercrombie House, near the Hilldene shops in Harold Hill, is run by Havering Council. - Credit: Archant

A Havering Council spokesperson said: “We offer our deepest sympathies to Mr Hill’s family and hope the coroner’s findings finally bring some much-needed closure for them.

“Abercrombie House remains a vital shelter for some of the borough’s most vulnerable people, and we are committed to ensuring the safety of residents by continuing to work closely with the police to tackle any reports of drug use swiftly and effectively.”

For more, read:

Family seeks answers as police probe dad's death in council hostel

Police called to council 151 times amid drug-dealing concerns

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