Distraght Family Of Man Found Dead in Public Toilet Plan To Sue Council For Damages

PUBLISHED: 18:30 25 May 2010 | UPDATED: 13:35 02 June 2010

The toilet at Sacrist Gate

The toilet at Sacrist Gate

THE distraught family of a man found dead in a public toilet in Ely are set to sue East Cambridgeshire District Council for damages. The body of Justin Baker, 36, of Steward Close, Stuntney, was discovered in a cubicle at the Sacrist Gate toilets at 7.37

THE distraught family of a man found dead in a public toilet in Ely are set to sue East Cambridgeshire District Council for damages.

The body of Justin Baker, 36, of Steward Close, Stuntney, was discovered in a cubicle at the Sacrist Gate toilets at 7.37am on February 7 by a member of the public.

An inquest at Fenland Magistrates Court heard on Friday that the previous afternoon, at around 4.45pm, cleaner Tracey Bye noticed that one of the cubicles in the Gents toilets was locked. She told the inquest that she knocked on the cubicle door several times before finishing her shift at 6.15pm after noticing a black rucksack or coat on the floor of the cubicle and hearing someone groan.

Ms Bye told the inquest: "I called my boss to explain the situation and told him that I thought the man had fallen asleep.

"He told me to leave the doors unlocked and to go home and he said that he would come and lock the doors later."

But the inquest heard that supervisor Derek Mitchell did not check the toilets that evening, claiming he was tired after working a 14-hour shift.

In a statement read out at the inquest he confirmed that Tracey Bye had phoned him at 6.15pm and told him she had heard someone groan in the cubicle and she thought he was asleep.

Mr Mitchell, who had worked for East Cambridgeshire District Council for five and-a-half years, told the inquest he was not aware of any council policy for dealing with such a situation. He also said it was not uncommon for the toilets to be left unlocked at night.

Commenting after Friday's inquest, ECDC confirmed that Mr Mitchell is no longer employed by them but would not comment further regarding Mr Mitchell.

The inquest heard that a man passing by the toilets, Nigel Matthewman, discovered Mr Baker's body the following morning. Mr Matthewman said he felt for a pulse and noticed Mr Baker's hand was cold and he believed the body had been there for a long time. He also noticed two empty syringe packets and called '999'.

Police Sgt Alistair Funge told the hearing there was no suggestion that any third party was involved in Mr Baker's death.

The inquest was told Mr Baker had suffered from depression since the death of his brother in a road accident seven years earlier and that he took medication to cope with this. The court also heard from Mr Baker's mother, Margaret, who said prior to her son's death she had no immediate concerns about his wellbeing.

She said she last saw him in Ely city centre at 11am the day before he died.

Doctor Penelope Wright, a consultant pathologist, said: "Fresh needle marks were found on both arms, but there was no evidence of previous needle marks. Both lungs were heavy and had fluid in them."

She also said there was evidence of morphine, heroin, alcohol and prescribed drugs in Mr Baker's body and that the combination of these substances would have been significant enough to cause respiratory failure.

Coroner William Morris recorded a verdict of death through an abuse of alcohol and drugs and described the quantity found as an "unfortunate cocktail". Mr Morris said he could find no evidence that Mr Baker had intended to take his own life.

Mr Baker's step-father John Shepherd, speaking after the inquest about his intention to sue ECDC for damages, told the Ely Standard: "We felt that we had to take action to ensure that something like this does not happen to anyone else. In our view council staff showed a distinct lack of humanity and care. Anything could have happened that night, it may have been that someone had suffered a heart attack or had an epileptic fit in that toilet and they left him there. If they had just phoned '999' Justin may still be alive today."

A spokesman for ECDC said: "Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time. The council has looked at the procedures we have in place to deal with such an incident and will re-examine these in the light of the inquest findings.

"It would be wrong to comment further until our investigations are fully finished and it is clear what further action may be taken.

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