Forgotten death: London's homeless untermensch

Zardoz Greek zardos777 at
Sat Jan 17 18:40:14 GMT 2015

A homeless man was found
impaled on a spike in a square in
London's Kensington - but who
was he and why did he die?
When a homeless man's body was
found in one of the richest corners of
London, the city barely flinched. Simon
Usborne tells the story of a man who
passed through our capital - and was
always passed by  

Thursday 15 January 2015
Ed Boord's walk from the station to his
office cuts through one of the wealthiest
corners of London. Kensington Church
Walk runs off Kensington High Street,
behind St Mary Abbots, where Princess
Diana used to pray under the city’s
tallest spire. The quiet passage near
Kensington Palace links a private
members’ club, a sought-after primary
school, and a line of boutiques,
including one that only sells expensive
Japanese kitchen knives.
“I was very early that day [6.25am,
according to his statement to police]
because I’d left some work at my desk
that I needed for a meeting,” Boord
recalls. He has agreed to retrace his
steps this week, more than two months
after a journey that would lead him to a
therapist’s couch. “It was dark - really
dark - but when I got to about here, I
saw a sort of shape. I couldn’t tell what
it was but I knew it was out of place.”
Boord, who’s 30, approaches the hip-
high fence on the East side of the Walk.
It surrounds a small garden popular
with office workers and - occasionally -
homeless people in need of a bench.
Inside, a dense hedge is trimmed to the
same height as the fence’s six-inch
spikes. As Boord got closer, the shape
became a man. His legs straddled the
fence, which was wet after rainfall, and
three spikes were obscured. An empty
shoe had become stuck on the next
spike, and the man’s upper body had
slumped forward over the hedge. Blood
pooled on the ground, and smeared a
sign in reach of his left foot. “His
hoodie was pulled up over his back,
which was blue,” Boord adds. “I
shouted at him but he was dead.”
It took a few hours for word of the
incident to travel  50 metres to
Northcliffe House, home to several
newspapers including this one. “A
rough sleeper died today after being
impaled on the railings outside David
Cameron's parish church,” one online
story began. It appeared that the man
had slept in the garden, and slipped
while climbing out, bleeding to death.
But that is all anyone else would learn.
Man, dead, fence... homeless. It is the
kind of story - horrible but apparently
without consequence - that troubles us
for minutes at most.
The next day the Walk is busy again,
the blood washed away. Only a scrap of
police tape suggests anything has
happened. But while the man still lay
here, Boord says, before the police and
paramedics arrived, several people
walking the other way did not notice
him, because of the the way the body
was postioned. “That was one of the
things that I talked to the therapist
about,” he says. “It upset me that
someone like that spends their life not
being noticed, and even in their last
moments people still walk past.”
Who was the man? What was his name?
Still in the Walk, I ask homeless people
first. (Kensington and Chelsea, one of
the richest areas in London, is among
the ten boroughs with the most rough
sleepers.) A woman with a dog and
carrying two large bags did not know
him. “People were saying it was
Vinnie,” she says. “But I’ve just seen
him outside Tesco.” Big Issue sellers,
shopkeepers, dog walkers, people in the
church: nobody knows anything. Some
are not aware a man died here
The park railings of a local park in
Kensington where a homeless man died
(Micha Theiner/The Independent)
Five days after the death, a small bunch
of flowers appears on a lamppost
without a note. (It will disappear the
next day.) Two women look at it. “In
this borough you don’t expect things like
that will happen,” says Aisha
Gustavsson, a mother of children at the
school, where the Prime Minister’s
daughter is also a pupil. David, a
gardener, is planting daffodils. “What a
horrible way to go,” he says. He has
heard a rumour that the man was local,
and had a wife.
The police are treating the death as
unexplained, and have passed the case
to the coroner. Twelve days later,
officers have found the man’s family.
They can’t share their details, but they
can name him: Pawel Koseda, 38, a
Polish national. There is little to
discover online, but one search result
stands out. In March 2013, Nasze
Strony, a Polish-language newspaper
based in Peterborough, reported that a
37-year-old called Pawel Koseda was
missing in London. The editor, Adam
Andrzejko, later confirms that he was
the same man. He sends a link to a
profile page on a Polish social network.
It only reveals one job: “Manager of
Quality Control Section, Monsoon, from
November 2010”. A separate profile
mentions Memo Fashions. Monsoon
does not comment but Memo, based in
Acton, confirms that Pawel Koseda
worked there briefly in 2013. Nobody
remembers him.
Andrzejko is not surprised Koseda has
died without anyone noticing. He sends
a series of names of missing Polish
people in Britain, and a story about
Robert Grzelachowski, a homeless man
who died last month in hospital in
Warwick aged 42. “The body will be
cremated and his ashes will rest in the
cemetery,” it ends. “Another emigrant
not to return to the country.”
Koseda’s fate is only slightly better.
Eventually I find an email address for
his brother. A month has now passed
since the death. “I have read your letter
on my tragically deceased brother
Pawel, and as you wrote, this is a very
difficult time for our family,” Wojciech
Koseda replies via a translator. “Only a
few days ago we brought him from
London and buried him in a cemetery
in Lodz. He was my only brother and I
still cannot accept what happened that
tragic night in Kensington.”
Wojciech says he had found his brother
following the missing persons appeal in
2013, but that “his situation was not
good.” He wants to check with his
mother before saying any more. “For
her this is a heavy-hearted moment,” he
adds. I keep him up to date with this
story in two further emails, but never
hear anything more from him.
Homeless man Pawel Koseda, 38, was a
Polish national
Westminster Coroner’s Court sets a date
for Koseda’s inquest: 6 January. In the
meantime, I take his name back to the
Walk, but nobody has heard of it. Early
on a cold, dark morning, Rowe, as he
wants to be called, is sitting on a bench
on the High Street. He has been here
most days for 25 years, on and off, yet I
had not noticed him. “I watched that
being planted,” he says, pointing at the
mature plane tree in front of him. After
a period of work in Lincoln, Rowe came
back here when his life and marriage
fell apart following the death of his
baby son. “I couldn’t cope and hit the
drink,” he says.
Rowe is aware a man died on the fence,
but knows nothing. He used to sleep in
the gardens before new locks were
fitted. “It was brilliant in there,” he
says. As he talks it’s still dark and cold
when a young man approaches,
shivering violently. “No home, no
home,” he says, pulling out a scrap of
paper. “Hello, please help me to be
taken to a London orphanage as I sleep
on roads by strong cold rain and
snow,” it reads. “God help me for that
judgment day will not be in hell, thank
you.” Rowe hands the man, who is
Romanian, his cup of tea. He speaks
barely a word of English, and neither of
us can find the building he wants.
Read more: Man found impaled on
railings by church in Kensington
Of the 6,500 people seen sleeping rough
by outreach workers in London in the
year to last March, less than half (46
per cent) were British, according to the
Chain database managed by St Mungo’s
Broadway, the homeless charity.
Romania and Poland now account for
more than a quarter of rough sleepers
in the city - a figure that has shot up in
the 10 years since the EU began
expanding eastwards and is mirrored
in many British towns and cities.
Darek Karwacki is a Polish outreach
worker based in Southwark, at a St
Mungo’s support centre. On the 10pm
to 2am shift, we drive around the
borough looking for rough sleepers of
all nationalities. Many have been
reported by members of the public via
Streetlink, a national service that links
homeless people to local support. In the
case of Eastern Europeans, says
Karwacki, “reconnection” to a home
country, for support and treatment in a
first language, is often the best solution.
But pride can be a barrier, as can
broken relationships and drink, drugs
or mental health problems.
I learn via Nasze Strony that in 2011, a
Polish outreach worker with
Thamesreach, another homeless charity,
had encountered Koseda sleeping rough
somewhere in London, but that he had
turned down the chance to return to
Lodz. The only other record is an
encounter last July at a homeless
support centre in Shepherd’s Bush,
West London.
Kensington Church Walk, which runs off
Kensington High Street and behind St Mary
Abbots Church (Micha Theiner/The
In the rubbish-strewn stairwell of a
multi-storey car park in Peckham, a
young British man has just injected
heroin, and can’t speak. “We’ll come
back,” says Karwacki, who is trying to
get him mental health support. A couple
of stops later, at London Bridge, we find
an older man reclining on his bags in
an entrance to a UK Border Agency
office. Vassil, who is 51, is a Romanian
builder. His father has died, and his
marriage has broken down. “I work in
Romania 28 years for nothing,” he says.
He receives no benefits and has the
documents to work - he just can’t get
Karwacki says the immigration debate
makes it more difficult to gain the trust
of Polish and Romanian rough sleepers,
and get them home. “They often call us
racist, he says. “‘Why are you waking
me up, you just want to send me back
home’.” The 38 year old is trying to
launch a new project to provide care
for high-risk rough sleepers, in their
language, to make reconnection easier.
He remembers a young Polish man
whose money from begging went
straight into a syringe. “We tried to
explain that if he stayed in this
situation… we were not saying he will
die, but that was the risk.” Karwacki
later travelled with the man back to
Poland, where he is now in rehab and
works at Marks & Spencer in Warsaw.
It is impossible to say how many people
saw Pawel Koseda sleeping rough
before Boord found him, but nobody
tried to get him help. Petra Salva,
director of outreach services at St
Mungo’s Broadway, as well as
StreetLink, says the inclination of most
people is still to walk on by. “What does
it say about our society that it’s taken a
death for you to write about this?” she
asks. “Unless the public are outraged
and stop being desensitised to the sight
of someone on the pavement, rough
sleeping will not change.”
Three visitors arrive for Pawel Koseda’s
inquest at Westminster Coroner’s Court:
the police detective who dealt with the
case, me, and a man who looks
unhappy. DC Thomas Norman tells the
coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox, that he found
a half-empty bottle of red wine in a bag
on the hedge by the body, and a
matching, empty bottle in the bin by the
bench. The toxicology report confirms
that Koseda had very high levels of
alcohol in his system. He was wearing
hospital pyjamas under his clothes, and
a scar on his head indicated that he had
undergone skull surgery. He died soon
after two spikes penetrated his thigh
and abdomen, the latter severing an
artery. Cause of death: accidental. “He
was a very young man to have died in
this manner,” Wilcox tells the other
man, who nods.
I approach him outside. Ziggy Denis is
Pawel’s cousin. He owns a small
construction company and has lived in
London for 13 years. “Do you know that
Pawel was a teacher at a university in
Lodz?” he asks. “He was such a bright,
intelligent man - one of the best
students at his university - but alcohol
addiction ruined everything.” Denis
thinks Koseda came to Britain about 10
years ago, and says he had no wife or
children. He does not know when or
why his drink problem developed, and
says Pawel cut contact with his family
years ago. “His mother tried to get him
out of this mess but it was not possible,
and this is the consequence.”
Denis first learned about the death
hours after it happened. “I was driving
the car and heard it on the radio and I
said, ‘What the hell’,” he remembers. It
would be days before he learned the
man was his cousin. Ten days before
the death, he had received a call from
the police. Koseda was at St Mary’s
Hospital after falling and hitting his
head. Denis stayed there for three days
until his cousin began to recover from
surgery. “The next day he escaped from
hospital,” he says. He died a week later,
a 30-minute walk away, past
Kensington Palace.
Sheltering from rain inside the church
beside the Walk, Ed Boord, who lives
not far away in Parson’s Green, is
relieved to learn more about the man
on the fence. Three days after the
discovery, he broke down on a Tube
train, and wept for almost an hour. “It
was the most emotional I think I’ve ever
been - extraordinary,” he says. He feels
better now after two therapy sessions,
and wants to do something to support
homeless charities. “We get so
ingrained in our London lifestyle,” he
adds. “We’re so bloody selfish.”
Denis, who lives in North Finchley and
has a young daughter, hopes his
cousin’s family in Poland can recover.
“They lost a brother and son - this is a
disaster for them,” he says. In the
meantime he wants to move on and
think about the Pawel he knew. “He
was a great guy. When we were
younger we spent holidays together.
This is what I will remember about

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