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Man who said ‘he could not breathe’ after being restrained was unlawfully killed, coroner rules

Written by on 27/02/2021

A man who died after being restrained face-down by public transport workers was unlawfully killed, a coroner has ruled.

Jack Barnes, 29, repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” as he was held by Metrolink-contracted staff in Manchester in October 2016, the city’s coroner’s court was told.

The man, from Hull, had been apprehended and restrained by four “customer service representatives” following an altercation at Manchester Victoria railway station.

The father-of-one lay on the pavement in Deansgate in the city centre after he was caught following a 1,000m (1km) pursuit, the court was told.

He then had a cardiac arrest and was transferred to hospital but died seven weeks later after suffering a severe hypoxic brain injury, caused by a lack of blood flow or oxygen.

Senior coroner for Manchester, Nigel Meadows, said the cardiac arrest was caused in part by the “prolonged restraint itself and the unreasonable and excessive force”.

The court heard the four men, who had been monitoring anti-social behaviour on the tram system, were responding to an assault on two of their colleagues earlier that evening by Mr Barnes.

More from Manchester

One of the representatives, a former police officer, took over the restraint position at one point and gripped Mr Barnes’s neck and held his left arm behind his back as well as putting pressure on his back.

Mr Barnes's mother, Patricia Gerrard, says the men should face prosecution
Image: Jack Barnes as a child

From bodycam footage worn by a colleague the former policeman was heard to say: “We’re gonna put you out pal. You’re all right” and then later added: “Right, if you struggle I will put you to sleep.

“It won’t kill you.

“It won’t kill you, but you will go to sleep for a while.”

Mr Barnes did not continue to struggle or shout as he was held but was heard to slur his words for a short period of time before he went on to have a cardiac arrest.

He then ceased moving for several minutes, and when he was turned over several minutes later his lips were seen to be blue.

Mr Barnes suffered a severe hypoxic brain injury and died in hospital nearly two months later on 2 December 2016.

The father-of-one had been using the drug Spice ahead of the incident and had got into an argument with one of the staff about allegedly consuming drugs on trams or platforms.

It led to Mr Barnes swinging his bag at two staff members before he was chased out of the station, the court was told.

The four pursuers were described as “overstimulated and aroused” by Mr Meadows, who noted they could have phoned the police during the course of the chase but did not so.

He concluded: “Jack’s cardiac arrest was caused by a combination of factors involving the consumption of synthetic cannabinoids, the physical exertion of being chased for over 1,000 metres as well as an element of resistance to restraint in the initial stages but also the prolonged restraint itself and the unreasonable and excessive force used to do so.”

He ruled the death to be unlawful, and said the restraint “more than minimally, trivially or negligibly contributed” to the cardiac arrest.

Mr Barnes’s mother, Patricia Gerrard, who has been calling for the four men to face prosecution, said: “If this had been the other way around, my Jack would have been sent to prison. I am certain of that.

“He should still be here with us and to see his beautiful daughter grow up.”

Ms Gerrard’s lawyer said the security members had “sought confrontation” and used “excessive force” and acted against the employer’s police to “walk away”.

She also said “appropriate care” hadn’t been given after Mr Barnes became unconscious.

Transport for Greater Manchester chief executive, Eamonn Boylan, said: “This was a tragic and deeply upsetting incident and we have worked closely with both Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the Coroner’s office to ensure the full facts surrounding Jack’s death were thoroughly investigated.

“There were clear policies and training in place at the time of the incident, which those involved that evening completely disregarded.”

 Sky News

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