Family 'Devastated' By Removal of Mural to Man Who Died in Police Custody

Kevin Clarke told officers "I can't breathe" in a restraint that lasted 33 minutes. His mother said she wasn't consulted over his mural's removal.
Simon Childs
London, United Kingdom
October 28, 2020, 11:41am
kevin clarke mural
Kevin Clarke’s mother Wendy and sister Tellecia in front of the mural in Lewisham, south London. Photo: Adam Pugh

The mother of a Black man who died in police custody says she’s “devastated” after a mural painted in his memory was removed by a property developer.

Kevin Clarke was experiencing a mental health crisis when he died following restraint by Metropolitan police officers in Lewisham, south London, on the 9th of March, 2018. He was 35. Clarke told officers “I can’t breathe” and “I’m going to die” during a restraint that lasted 33 minutes, but officers said they couldn’t hear him. On the 9th of October an inquest found that the restraint contributed to his death.

The mural was completed in September on a hoarding at the Lewisham Gateway Project – a “transformational” regeneration scheme near Lewisham police station. Earlier this week the mural was removed and painted over with blue paint. A notice from developer Balfour Betty, which owns the site, said the artwork had been removed “following an agreement with relevant parties”.

But Wendy Clarke, Kevin Clarke’s mother, told VICE News, “No, we weren’t consulted.”

“It was a memorial so that we could always go there and be comforted by it. It gave us that peace within, knowing that Kevin is gone but something is there to show that Kevin is loved by many,” she said. “Kevin had family all over London and they want to come and see it. Not everyone got to see it.”

Kevin Clarke mural removed

A notice at the site from developer Balfour Beatty. Photo: Adam Pugh

A spokesperson for Balfour Beatty said: “On Saturday 19th August, we were made aware that unapproved artwork had appeared on a section of hoarding after the site closed on the Friday.

“Since its installation, we have been working with Kevin Clarke’s family to mutually agree upon a solution that will commemorate the artwork after it has been removed. We are pleased to have been able to work with those close to Kevin Clarke on an alternative they are happy with.”

When VICE News put this statement to Wendy Clarke, she said, “I’m very upset about it, actually. I am surprised that they say that.”

Emails show that Balfour Beatty discussed an alternative commemoration with a family friend.

Anti-racism campaigner Adam Pugh organised the mural, and has acted as the family’s point of contact for the developer. He said, “They haven’t contacted the family directly. They had my contact details, they know that I was the organiser and the family point of contact for the mural. Not only have they not bothered to contact me, but they’ve ignored my attempts at contacting them. They may have spoken to a family friend, but they have failed miserably when it comes to communicating with the family.”

VICE News asked Balfour Beatty about the discrepancy between its statement and what Wendy Clarke said. A spokesperson for the developer said: “Following both written and verbal consent from the relatives of the family, that a framed professional photograph of the artwork was appropriate, and acknowledgement of the hoarding being returned to its original state following this, we proceeded with our mutually agreed approach.

“We are therefore deeply saddened to learn that Kevin Clarke’s mother is disappointed with the outcome and we would welcome a discussion with her personally.”

Wendy Clarke told VICE News, “It’s a struggle every day. My daughter can’t come to terms with the death of her brother. This is very hard. Last week I came [to the mural] and I was talking to people. I get comforted because I cry so much for my son. I so miss him.”

@SimonChilds13