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Investigation launched into Gary Cook death at West Malling train station amid questions about mental health care

By Alan Smith

The death of a retired firefighter killed when he was hit by a train at West Malling will have to be investigated by an independent expert in psychiatric care with an inquest held before a jury, a coroner has ruled.

Gary Cook, from Larkfield, died on in May last year, two days after his 67th birthday.

Mr Cook had become a voluntary patient at Priority House mental health clinic in Maidstone after attempting suicide three weeks earlier.

Gary Cook, from Larkfield, retired as a retained firefighter in 2003
Gary Cook, from Larkfield, retired as a retained firefighter in 2003

At a resumed inquest, coroner Kate Harding said there was the question of whether his death fell under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life.

The issue hinged on whether the Maidstone and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust had de facto assumed responsibility for Mr Cook’s care, albeit that he was a voluntary patient and that no order had been made for his detention under the Mental Health Act.

Mr Cook, of Falcon Green, had been co-operating with his health care programme and taking his medication and had appeared to be making some progress.

He was allowed out of the Hermitage Lane centre - but only under the supervision of staff or family members, and he was specifically required to stay in the centre over night when he was most vulnerable.

After 90 minutes of legal argument with Kay Learmond, the solicitor representing the NHS trust, the coroner ruled Mr Cook had been in the effective care of the state and therefore his death fell into an Article 2 scenario.

Miss Learmond conceded that “it could be argued both ways.”

Mrs Harding apologised to Mr Cook’s family and to the witnesses who had attended, saying the inquest could not now go ahead without the investigation by an independent expert.

A new date of May 23 was set for the resumption of the inquest, which is now expected to last three days.

Mr Cook had worked as a retained firefighter at the New Hythe Lane fire station for 21 years, retiring in May 2003.

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