Family of youth who died while on remand renews call for answers

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By Makeida Antonio

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A family is still grappling with unanswered questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of their relative who died at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) late last year.

Twenty-year-old Verel Simon was laid to rest on Wednesday following a memorial service at the St John’s Pentecostal Church House of Restoration.

Observer reported information provided by a reliable source that Simon’s death was the result of cardiovascular anoxia — the cause of heart attack or stroke. However, the family denies that is the true cause of his death.

He was on remand after being charged with the murder of Corporal Clifton Common in February 2021. Simon was found unresponsive in his cell by prison officers months later in December 2021.

In February, Simon’s family threatened to take legal action against police, the prison and others involved in the matter. They have maintained their stance that the police are not following proper procedures in handling the investigation into the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death.

Both the family and HMP officials are in possession of the death certificate but the cause of Simon’s death has still not been released due to ongoing investigations.

According to one family member, an attorney has been conducting an independent report on behalf of the family.

“Our lawyer is working on the matter and the police said they are continuing their investigation. When we asked them where do we go from here based on the autopsy results, the reply was they are still doing investigations. They are not forthcoming with information unless we press them or our lawyer insists,” the relative to Observer.

Observer attempted to ascertain the cause of death but police spokesperson Assistant Superintendent Frankie Thomas said that Simon’s death certificate is not a public record.

Meanwhile, Simon’s family has continued to advocate for persons with mental illness in Antigua and Barbuda. There had been suggestions that Simon was himself suffering from a mental disorder.

The relative who spoke to Observer said that residents need to be more aware of such illnesses people may be battling with.

“When you see people with mental health [issues], it’s not about drugs. Everything for them [is] ‘oh ah drugs’. Excuse me, he wasn’t on any drugs. We have schizophrenics among us, panic attacks, we have people who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, and there are other disorders. It’s just that you can’t see it because it affects the brain,” the relative said.

A bit of advice offered to other families who may be encountering a similar ordeal with a loved one is to seek psychosocial support and increase bonds between family members to cope with the traumatising experience.

“They need psychological counselling and they need support because there are times when the same mentally ill person turns on their own family. They will say things and they will lash out during their hallucination period and so on.

“You have to be very strong, and to get that you need to have that support as a family and come together as one,” the source said.

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