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Inquest into death of vulnerable Devon man to probe the role of police, ambulance and health services

The inquest into the death of Chang Somers, a 36-year old man from Plymouth, will begin on 23rd February at Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon Coroner’s Court. Mr Somers, also known as Valan Pitts, was a vulnerable man with mental health problems and learning difficulties who was found dead in August 2012.

The inquest is set to look into the events that led up to Mr Somers death, examining the actions of the various public authorities who had contact with him during July 2012, including Devon and Cornwall Police, South West Ambulance Service and community mental health services.

Mr Somers was found dead on 22 August 2012 in a garden in Paignton, Devon after being reported missing by his family on 31 July 2012. He was last seen on 25 July 2012. Prior to his death he had expressed concerns about his own mental health and his wish to be referred to a local psychiatric hospital. His family had requested he be assessed under section 3 of the Mental Health Act but this was never carried out.

As well as examining the failure of the authorities to respond to the request by the family that he be assessed under the Mental Health Act, the inquest will look at the handling of calls to Devon and Cornwall Police, from Mr Somers and from a witness concerned about him on 24 July 2012. The inquest will also examine the handling of a 999 call made on 25 July 2012 from a witness who reported that a man outside his house was taking tablets, near the garden where Mr Somers’ body was later discovered.

The inquest will run until 2 March.

Jocelyn Cockburn and Trudy Morgan of Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA), the civil liberties law firm that specialises in actions against the police, are representing Cynthia Somers, Mr Somers’ mother. The family are also being supported by the charity INQUEST.

The Somers family say: “Chang was well known and liked around Plymouth. He was also a much loved son and brother and his death has saddened many. We will always love and remember Chang, and feel the pain of his absence every day. We have been searching for answers for a long time and hope that the inquest next week will give us a clearer picture of what happened in the lead up to Chang’s death. We want to understand whether more could have been done to help him and whether opportunities were missed that may have ultimately prevented his death.”

Solicitor Trudy Morgan says: “This inquest will be examining all of the circumstances surrounding Chang Somers’ death, including the role of various public authorities. Prior to his death Chang was in crisis and asked for help numerous times. It appears that every single agency he turned to for assistance failed to provide him with support. Chang was a very vulnerable man who did not get the help he needed – the family want to ensure that lessons will be learnt so that no-one will be allowed to slip through the net in the future.”
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Louise Eckersley, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208, email:
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Notes to editors:

Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) was founded in 1977 in Camden and has 200 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm practices personal injury, clinical negligence, civil liberties, family law, wills and probate, housing, dispute resolution, criminal defence and serious fraud.

The Civil Liberties team at Hodge Jones & Allen is one of the UK’s foremost teams in bringing actions against the police and state authorities for deaths in custody. The firm’s solicitors work closely with INQUEST, which works for truth, justice and accountability for families, and campaigns for policy change at the highest level.

Jocelyn Cockburn is one of the UK’s leading civil liberties lawyers. She represents many individuals who have actions against the police, including: Neville Lawrence, the father of murdered teenage Stephen Lawrence in various ongoing inquiries into the conduct of the London Metropolitan Police and has acted for several families whose loved ones have died in Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centres. She has also represented the Pilkington family against Leicestershire Police Force’s failure to protect Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her severely disabled daughter in 2007 after years of torment by youths.

Prior to joining HJA Trudy Morgan worked in the Attorney General’s private office for three years. She now undertakes a variety of actions against public authorities, including civil claims against the police, judicial review, Human Rights Act and discrimination claims, as well as acting for bereaved families in inquest proceedings and related civil claims.