A serial abuser who terrorised his partner was found hanging near an East London golf club after a booze and coke binge, an inquest has heard. Barber Kevin White, 44, was found by a group of walkers hanging by his rucksack strap in a tree off Chingford Lane near Woodford Golf Club on November 3 2021, a day after he texted his partner ‘no turning back’. Paramedics who rushed to the scene found he was already dead.
Kevin had battled mental health problems for years and was taking anti-depressants at the time of his death. He had been in and out of hospital after a series of crises involving his relationships, some of which ended in violence and self-harm. In a statement read by coroner Graeme Irvine, Kevin’s partner Teresa Rustean detailed their explosive relationship which started on a dating app in the first coronavirus lockdown.
At an inquest into his death at East London Coroners’ Court, she said: “I was honest with him from the start about my background and that I had been seeing other men but things changed quickly. He would get extremely annoyed and upset. He began controlling me by stopping me using social media and seeing my family and friends. I could not watch anything that interested me.”
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Teresa added: “He began smoking weed and then went on to smoke crack cocaine but he would deny it. He used to return to the room with his eyes bulging. He used to binge drink too. He used to verbally abuse and he would get in my face and scare me. He would tell me how grateful I should be for holding my hand in public.”
Ms Rustean tried several times to break up with Kevin because of his “violent volatile temper” which one time left her with “a really bad black eye”. This incident led to his arrest, but only a suspended sentence and fine.
She also told the court about Kevin’s difficult childhood, not knowing his dad and his mum who “slept around”. At a young age he “fell in with the wrong crowd” and ended up at a young offenders unit in Feltham. Despite this he went on to marry, become a dad, and work as a barber in Ilford whilst also running drugs.
Ms Rustean’s statement also revealed Kevin had tried to kill himself before, recalling one time she found him with a “bathroom cord wrapped around his neck”, while another time he “cut his neck, his wrists, and also put a knife to me too”. Later in the hearing she admitted these acts – which included superficial cuts – formed part of his “attention seeking” behaviour.
She added: “I wanted to help Kevin but he needed to help himself first. He would take me out to a nice restaurant but he would always throw it back in my face.”
One of the worst crises came after their final break-up when Kevin left a message saying he had cut his throat again. Ms Rustean called police who smashed his door down, angering his landlord. Later Ms Rustean took Kevin back into her home “not in a relationship” but so he had somewhere to sleep.
On the night before his death, Ms Rustean recalled Kevin sending a snap of his beer before she saw him up the road “so drunk he could not stand”. Ms Rustean told the court how he became verbally abusive so she rang the police. She continued: “He then ran off and texted me the final time saying ‘No turning back’. On the phone I could hear noises. I think these things were when he was committing suicide.”
The court heard how police were able to track his body using his mobile phone signal – a power granted for locating high risk missing persons. By the time they reached the golf club in Woodford Green a group of women had already come across Kevin hanging from the tree.
A toxicology report found Kevin’s alcohol levels were over twice the legal driving limit along with high amounts of cocaine, some of which was taken just before his death. It also found he had stopped taking his amitriptyline, though he was still on mirtazapine. In her statement, Ms Rustean attributed some of Kevin’s bad behaviour to drinking on prescribed medicine.
Coroner Irvine called two witnesses into court to detail Kevin’s mental health care in the lead up to his death with the hope of learning lessons. Waltham Forest home treatment team psychiatrist Dr Olusegun Claudius-Adeniyi told the court how Kevin’s recurrent depression and fear of abandonment had manifested itself acutely during crises, causing him to harm himself or others.
During an extensive period of home treatment Kevin managed to convince doctors he was okay to be discharged, regularly taking his meds and going to appointments. But, he did not engage with drug and alcohol counselling which had to be voluntary as he was no longer being detained under the Mental Health Act.
Ms Rustean questioned why the decision to discharge Kevin was not discussed with her at a time when she was still fielding calls as his next of kin. Coroner Irvine explained how documents showed Kevin never gave permission for doctors to share confidential information with her.
She responded: “Kevin was clever and manipulative and probably said how he felt what others wanted to hear, I am a bit confused by it all. What I am hearing here is completely different to the discussion I had with Kevin at the time.”
Coroner Irvine later put this comment to North East London NHS Foundation Trust senior mental health nurse Paul Bentham who said the team seeks to “work in close partnership with relatives or next of kin” but it is a “struggle” without permission.
Coroner Irvine responded by suggesting having “an alternative history” can be useful and recommended the trust look to “take information in” even if it is ethically bound not to give it out. “Patently said, what Kevin is telling you is not the God’s honest truth,” he added.
Ms Rustean was also joined by her neighbour who was witness to much of the domestic abuse preceding Kevin’s death. She told the court: “Kevin only told people what they wanted to hear. All Kevin was concerned about was to get out of where he was to get back to Ms Rustean without her knowing, to get back to her to cause her torment.
“I used to have to sit in my flat, it was awful. He threw her phone down the toilet so she could not even ring me. You do not wish anyone dead but my main concern was my friend.”
In his closing remarks, coroner Irvine recognised Kevin was “a very young man” who “had a difficult upbringing” which affected his mental health. This led him to be controlling, aggressive, and use emotional blackmail on his partner by threatening self harm. When he was admitted to hospital during a crisis he would sober up and then present as stable, before returning home.
Coroner Irvine gave Ms Rustean the chance to influence his narrative conclusion, asking: “Do you think he intended to take his own life”. She said: “No.” He continued: “Do you think this was potentially attention seeking behaviour”. She said: “Yes.” On the basis of these answers coroner Irvine gave a narrative conclusion. Not registering it as suicide, he said: “It has not been possible to determine what his intentions were at the time of death.”
Speaking to MyLondon after the inquest, Ms Rustean said: “He turned me against so many people. I did not talk to my mum and sister for years. He worked as a barber, he was a confident, cheeky chappy but I saw a different side to him. He would tell things to his friends that were not correct.”
Despite his campaign of abuse she stuck by his side. She said: “He did have a really lovely side to him, that’s why we got together. But I look back and the caring was not caring. He was hard working, he was supportive to everyone else, but I just had the brunt of it. He knew how to play the system.”
She also recalled talking to her mum, who told her she was lucky she hadn’t been killed the same night. After applying for a non-molestation order she revealed there were “about five different counts against him”, all filed by the same woman.
Speaking about the night he died, she said: “I had realms and realms of texts. He would always wait for me to go and rescue him. It was literally on my doorstep and I think he was texting me to go and find him and rescue him. I thought ‘I have been here before’.”
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