The independent London newspaper

30 days in a hospital bed, the man with no name

The New Journal appeals for help as it asks: In a city like London, how can nobody know who this man is?

25 January, 2018 — By William McLennan

Police released a new photo of the patient

EVERY day for the past month, nurses have gently tended to an unconscious man in their care, monitoring his vital signs and even shaving his thickening beard as he lies in a coma.

But staff at the University College Hospital face the same problem at the start of every shift: they have no idea what to call him, nor, for that matter, how old he is or where he’s from. Police have spent the past four weeks since he collapsed from a heart attack almost at the hospital doors following leads, but astonishingly have been unable to put a name to the face, despite his image being circulated widely in the press and online.

How can the man’s identity not be known by a single soul? Surely it is impossible, it might have fairly been assumed, to have no contacts at all, in a connected city of nine million people? The image of the man with no name, unconscious in a critical care ward, has led to a perplexing search to find his next of kin or even, for that matter, an acquaintance.

But it has also thrown up searching questions as to how anybody can fall completely off the grid.

“This really highlights the number of vulnerable people living in social isolation,” said Janet Guthrie, chairwoman of Age UK Camden. “This shows the need for the resources in the community targeted at reducing social isolation and associated risks.” Camden Council has accepted that social isolation – in which people are almost entirely cut off from society – will become an increasing problem as the borough’s population ages.

But researchers believe it is not only a problem for the elderly, with the effects more likely to be felt by the vulnerable and disabled. Ms Guthrie said: “This seems to be about a lack of community spirit and neighbourliness.”

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which was set up in honour of the MP who was murdered in 2016, has launched the “Start a Conversation Campaign”, encouraging people to tackle isolation by chatting with a neighbour or checking in on an old friend.

CAN YOU HELP? Anyone who may be able to help in identifying the man is urged to contact the police missing persons unit on 020 8733 6543 or 101.

In the case of UCH’s mystery man, today (Thursday) marks his 30th day spent in that hospital bed. Nobody has reported him missing. The New Journal today publishes his picture on our front page in the hope somebody can help. Officers at first believed that he may have been homeless, perhaps spending his nights in one of the 650 hostel beds in the borough.

But, increasingly, it seems that may be misdirection. CCTV has shown the man walking northwards along Tottenham Court Road when he “suddenly collapsed” at around 5.30pm on December 26, having suffered a massive heart attack. He has remained at the hospital in Euston Road ever since, hooked up to a life-support machine. Unlike most patients brought through the doors of the emergency room, he was carrying no ID, bank cards or any other formal documentation.

The man before nurses shaved his beard

Police were called in to help and found several scraps of paper in his pocket, with what appeared to be a handwritten list of his monthly outgoings. It contained some clues, but lacked vital details. Among those were his visits to a foodbank and a swimming pool, where he paid concession rates. It is believed his clothes were secondhand, having been donated to charity. Police found a name tag inside a jumper and were able to trace the previous owner, who told them he had “donated them before leaving the country”.

None of the homelessness charities and volunteers working in Camden have been able to identify him. Jon Glackin, who runs the homeless solidarity group Streets Kitchen, has been called in to help and shared the man’s image with the scores of people that they feed every night. “Nobody could put a face to him,” he said. “He might not be homeless. I know the police said his clothes are donated, but that could just be anybody who’s skint.” Had the man been homeless, Mr Glackin said it “would be very likely someone would have spotted him somewhere”.


PC Michael O’Grady, the Met’s only “street population outreach officer”, who is based in Camden, said: “I was asked to see if I could identify him in that he might have been homeless. Sadly I was unable to do so.” Likewise, the Safer Streets Team, funded by Camden Council, did not recognise him. PC Andrew Harris, who is based at the hospital, said: “I’ve certainly never encountered it in my time, that you would have someone who is almost a complete mystery.”

CAN YOU HELP? Anyone who may be able to help in identifying the man is urged to contact the police missing persons unit on 020 8733 6543 or 101.

He said it was “not unheard of” for people to arrive at the hospital without ID, but added: “They are generally people from vulnerable backgrounds, persons with mental health issues or who have interacted with the criminal justice at some point. “With those bits of information, if they have a previous criminal history, as soon as we have their fingerprints or DNA, we know who they are.”

In this case, a search of police records provided no hints. “If I was a family member of this man I would have wanted police to have tried everything they reasonably could, so that I could be by his bedside,” he said. “Somebody knows who he is or where he is from and I am desperate for him to be identified so that this can happen.”

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