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Norwich residents in shock as homeless man’s death treated as ‘suspicious’

09:28 17 June 2015

Scene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Scene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

People have today spoken of their shock after detectives launched an inquiry into the suspicious death of a 29-year-old rough sleeper in a Norwich underpass.

Scene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYScene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The body of the man, who has been named locally as Sergio, was found early on the morning of Wednesday, June 10 and his death was initially treated as unexplained.

However, extensive forensic enquiries, during an initial post mortem on Friday 12 June and a Home Office post mortem yesterday, revealed fatal injuries which officers did not notice at first.

These included cuts to his spleen causing internal bleeding.

Derek Player, general manager of St Martin’s Housing Trust, which supports homeless people in the city, said: “It’s doubly sad if the death is the result of an attack of some kind. It’s a long time, if it does turn out to be the case, since we’ve had a serious attack like this.

Scene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYScene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

”It just reinforces what I’ve always said that rough sleeping is a very dangerous occupation for those involved and we would like to engage with everyone very quickly to make sure they are aware of all the services available to them.”

Mr Player revealed the charity “was aware” of the individual who died and said they would be “co-operating with the authorities” if they were contacted.

Simon Gravell, 48, who sells the Big Issue in the Haymarket area of the city, said it would be “terrible” and “diabolical” if the death has come as the result of an attack but admitted it was part of the risks of being on the streets.

He said: “When you live on the streets you take your life into your own hands.”

Scene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYScene of death of a homeless man in St Stephen's Street underpass. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Detective Chief Inspector Tracey Little, Joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, who leads the investigation, said: “Sadly the man had clearly fallen on hard times and, despite assistance offered by various charities and health professionals, he had chosen to make the subway his regular place to sleep.

“When we found him he was wearing eight layers of clothing which led to his injuries being concealed. It is unknown at the present time how he came to receive the injuries to his spleen that caused his death.

“Our last confirmed sighting of him is the day before, Tuesday 9 June at 2pm in the underpass and we would like to hear from anyone who saw him after that time or has information regarding his injuries.”

Superintendent Dave Marshall, the local Norwich Policing Commander, said: “We understand that this news will come as a shock to the surrounding community and I can reassure people that we will be conducting extra, highly visible, patrols in the local area for the coming days.”

If the man’s death does turn out to be the result of an attack it would be the first time since 2002 that a homeless person died following assault.

In January 2002, Big Issue seller Keith Swan, 32, was repeatedly punched and kicked by at the corner of Brazengate and Queen’s Road in Norwich.

He died from head injuries at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, two days after the attack and two men were jailed after they admitted manslaughter

On Saturday about 20 people attended a vigil in memory of the man, who is thought to be from Poland, where candles were lit in his honour.

Have you got a crime story? Email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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