Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Inquest shown cell death video footage

Clive Nuñez

Harrowing video footage was shown to a jury yesterday during the opening session of the inquest into the death of Clive Nuñez, 38.

Mr Nuñez hung himself in the early hours of October 14th, 2001, while he was detained in a police cell. His body was found five hours later.

Footage of his death was shown as the Coroner's Court began hearing evidence from its first witness, Home Office pathologist Dr Peter Jerreat.

The chilling and graphic video, filmed by a CCTV camera inside the cell, records the images and sounds of the cell on the night in question.

It first shows Mr Nuñez fully dressed and asleep on a bunk bed. He then wakes up and is seen removing his shirt and the cord from his tracksuit bottoms, which he methodically secures to the wall of the cell.

The next few minutes made for disturbing viewing as Mr Nuñez ties the cord round his neck and hangs himself while standing on the bunk bed. He collapses very rapidly and is left slumped forward suspended from the cord, his feet still on the bunk bed.

The last segment of footage shown to the jury was filmed about five hours after Mr Nuñez hung himself. In it, police officers are seen entering the cell and cutting him down, a task that takes several minutes.

Much of the evidence during yesterday's opening session focused on the cause of death, which Dr Jerreatt said was mainly a result of vital blood vessels and nerves having been constricted by the ligature around Mr Nuñez's neck, causing the heart to slow and stop.

Elliott Phillips, acting for the family of the deceased, centred many of his questions on the issue of how long it may have taken for him to die.

One of the key issues was whether or not Mr Nuñez's heart had stopped immediately, or whether he had been hanging unconscious for a short time before his heart stopped beating.

The pathologist's analysis was speculative because there was no firm evidence either way, making it impossible to be completely accurate as to how long it took until he was dead.

Dr Jerreatt, who is a forensic pathologist with over 28 years of experience, nevertheless estimated that death occurred within about 30 seconds of Mr Nuñez hanging himself. But he added that - in theory - it was possible that Mr Nuñez may have lived for several minutes after he hung himself and that - again theoretically - it may have been possible to resuscitate him had he been attended within that short window.

Dr Jerreatt's conclusions were broadly backed up by Dr T Biedrzycki, consultant pathologist at St Bernard's Hospital, who also gave evidence to the inquest.

There were, however, some discrepancies as to the length of time that Mr Nuñez may have theoretically remained alive, with Dr Biedrzycki appearing to suggest a shorter period than Dr Jerreatt. Dr Biedrzycki also said that asphyxiation was a major factor in the cause of death.

During yesterday's session, Coroner Charles Pitto read a statement by Mr Nuñez's widow, Michelle Natalie Nuñez. In it she described her late husband as "a normal person, always joking and friendly with others." She could think of no reason why he should have taken his own life.

Mr Nuñez was arrested at around 2am on October 14th, 2001, after police were called to his home following reports of a disturbance.

Police Sergeant John Anthony Goodman, who was one of several policemen at the scene, told the court that Mr Nuñez had smelt of alcohol at the time and had appeared "extremely agitated, sweating and very aggressive".

According to forensic reports, Mr Nuñez had consumed an amount of alcohol - about double the legal driving limit - and traces of amphetamine were also found in his blood.

On the night of the arrest Sergeant Goodman, who had known Mr Nuñez for some years, had been unable to calm him down, despite repeated attempts. The court heard how Mr Nuñez had appeared very upset about a number of family concerns. He was eventually arrested for being drunk and disorderly and was taken to the police station, where Sergeant Goodman handed him over to the sergeant and jailor on duty at the entrance to the station. "That was the last time I saw him," Sergeant Goodman said. Asked by the Coroner as to Mr Nuñez's demeanour at that point, the sergeant replied: "Calm."

The inquest continues today.


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