Published: 06:00, 10 September 2020
| Updated: 06:31, 10 September 2020
A former Lord Mayor and long-serving city councillor took his own life days after being arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.
Canterbury councillor Ian Thomas was taken in for questioning by police in June after he was accused of molesting a woman he had been helping through his work with a charity supporting those facing hardship.
He was bailed by officers, but three days later took an overdose of painkillers at his home in Whitstable .
The 70-year-old, who was Lord Mayor of Canterbury in 2011, later died in hospital, where he had told medics he “did not wish to be alive”.
He had been arrested at his home in Kemp Road on June 10 after an allegation of sexual assault was made to police.
The incident was said to have happened at the home of a single mum who had sought the help of the Whitstable Non-Ecclesiastical Charities, of which Cllr Thomas was a trustee.
It was alleged he had sexually assaulted the woman after going to her home in Whitstable on May 24 to drop off some money.
Following his arrest, Cllr Thomas - who was first elected to the city council in 1997 - stood down as a trustee of the charity.
An inquest into his death was told that on the morning of June 13, he took an overdose at home.
In a statement read out at the hearing on Monday, his wife Suzanne said she had checked on him at 10.30am after he had failed to come down from his bedroom - which she said was unusual - and found him in a “terrible state”.
She continued: “He had been sick and appeared as though he may have had a stroke. I was incredibly shocked.”
Cllr Thomas was rushed to the QEQM hospital in Margate , where doctors established he had damaged liver and renal function.
In a statement read out by the coroner, Dr Thirkle said Cllr Thomas had taken an “intentional” overdose and “expressed wishes to end his life”.
In another statement, mental health nurse Gay Fischer said Cllr Thomas had the ability to take decisions and had refused treatment.
He added: “He noted that he didn’t wish to be alive.”
Cllr Thomas was admitted to intensive care, where his condition deteriorated.
He died on June 16.
In a statement, Cllr Thomas’s widow said he had struggled with his mental health during lockdown.
Because of a number of chronic conditions, he had been advised to self-isolate.
Mrs Thomas said: “As I’m sure you will have seen, it’s caused a number of individuals to suffer on the mental health side of things. After 13 weeks of lockdown...Ian struggled with the impact of social isolation. He began to get frustrated with having to exist, instead of live.”
She said this had “added to the stress and worry of other family challenges that were happening at the time”.
Peter Griffin, a psychiatric nurse at Kent and Medway NHS & Social Care Partnership Trust, said Cllr Thomas was assessed by the service on the day of his arrest.
“He had no previous contact with our service, or mental health services,” he said in a statement read out at the inquest.
“He engaged with one of our practitioners for screening. He didn’t have a history of self harm and there was no intent to harm himself on release from custody. There were no indications he required any ongoing support.”
Coroner Catherine Wood said it was clear Cllr Thomas intended to take the painkillers and “die as a consequence”.
“He also refused treatment,” she said, recording a conclusion of suicide.
Retired insurance broker Cllr Thomas represented Swalecliffe ward on Canterbury City Council and was also a county councillor for Whitstable East and Herne Bay West.
Following his death, his son - outgoing city council leader Robert Thomas - described his father as a “a man who would do anything for anyone”.
He declined to comment when contacted by KentOnline 's sister paper, The Kentish Gazette this week.
Case closed after death
Following Cllr Thomas’s death, Kent Police closed their investigation into the allegations he was facing.
A spokesman said: “A 70-year-old man arrested by officers investigating a report of sexual assault has since passed away. As a result, the investigation has been closed and all parties have been updated.”
Garry Wootton, clerk to the trustees at Whitstable Non-Ecclesiastical Charities, confirmed Cllr Thomas stood down as a trustee following his arrest.
He added: “The charity cooperated fully with the police investigation at the time, which determined that, due to the untimely death of Mr Thomas, there was no case to answer.”
When asked if there had been an investigation, a spokesman for Furley Page, which provides legal advice to the charity, said: “The firm was first made aware of the allegations via contact between the police and the charity and, at the charity’s instruction provided to the police a list of all the people that Mr Thomas had dealings with while a Trustee of WNEC. When the allegation was made it became a police matter, who determined there was no case to answer.”
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