‘Wrongful arrest drove man to take own life’

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THE family of a Wigan dad who committed suicide after being wrongly arrested in a bungled drugs raid have launched legal action against police.

It follows an inquest which recorded that John Atherton intended to end his life when he plunged into the Leeds Liverpool Canal at Haigh Hall.

His brother, Geoffrey Atherton is now calling for Greater Manchester Police to apologise for wrongfully arresting the 46-year-old last December.

Officers raided John ’s address in Douglas House, Scholes, as part of a drugs bust and he spent more than 15 hours locked in a cell before he was told the force had made a mistake.

An inquest, led by assistant coroner Geoffrey Saul, heard that as a result of his wrongful arrest, the dad-of-one suffered bouts of depression, which developed into anxiety attacks when his mother Margaret died several months later.

His brother Geoffrey said: “John spent an awful lot of time with our mother as he was her carer. When she died, he had a lot of time to think about things.

“He was also very upset about being arrested. He had never taken any drugs, but it was playing on his mind as he kept saying people thought he was a drug addict.”

The inquest heard how Mr Atherton had been separated from his wife, Rita, since 2005, but that they had remained friends and had an 18-year-old son, Christopher, together.

She told the hearing: “He came to see me on the night of his death – July 10. He mentioned hearing loud banging noises, fearing the police were breaking his door down again.

“He was very upset about his mother also and he broke down.”

The inquest was also told John had been in a relationship with Rita Reynolds since May last year. She recalled how on the night of his death, John was behaving oddly.

She added: “He was saying silly things, like he wanted to be with his mum and that he wanted to kill himself.”

He then rang his other brother, David, telling him not to worry.

Ms Reynolds added that she attempted to get him into in her car to drive him to the hospital, but he left and walked in the direction of Wigan Lane.

After a while, she rang him and a man answered, saying he had found the phone at Haigh Plantations.

She then called David and along with Geoffrey, they attempted to look for him.

One witness, Sharon Taylor, said that she saw Mr Atherton running and jump into the canal.

She said: “He saw to the middle with no hesitation. He looked as though he was quite determined.”

Another witness, Juliet Lancaster, said that he forced himself under.

The inquest, which was held at Bolton Coroners’ Court on Tuesday, heard that Mr Atherton, who used to work for a moulding factory in Leyland Mill Lane, was seeking help from Debbie Timpson, a psychotherapist from 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

She said: “He discussed the incident where he had been arrested and appeared distressed. He was having sleepless nights and was intensely anxious.”

His GP, Dr Fiona Macmillan, added that Mr Atherton had contacted her surgery about sleep disturbance and requested a sick note for the DWP as he was grieving for the death of his mother.

He also suffered high blood pressure and gout.

A post mortem revealed that Mr Atherton died as a result of drowning and there was no alcohol in his system, but small traces of anti-depressants.

Mr Saul concluded: “The police incident was praying on his mind and he said he wanted to be with his mother.

“He was determined to harm himself and take his own life.”

Speaking after the inquest, Jeoffrey said: “I believe my brother killed himself through a bungled mess up by the police. We have had no apology or explanation. The police even admitted they arrested the wrong person when they let my brother go.

“John was such a gentle giant and would never have harmed anyone.

“He had never been involved in drugs in all his life. We want to hold the police accountable.”

A spokesman from Greater Manchester Police said: “Greater Manchester Police have received a civil claim from the family of John Atherton, claiming wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

“As this legal matter is ongoing, GMP cannot comment any further.”