A HOMELESS man may have died from injuries he sustained in an unprovoked attack as he slept in a Newquay churchyard, an inquest has heard.
It was claimed Mark Covington, 53, could even have been targeted by two men because he stumbled upon them engaged in a “homosexual tryst”.
Mr Covington, described as a “peaceful” alcoholic trying to kick his habit, was discovered dead next to the harbour wall in Newquay on Sunday, May 24, 2009, days after the assault.
Mystery still surrounds the exact cause of his death, but a post mortem examination revealed he had suffered a brain injury, consistent with a fall or assault, that could later have caused him to die suddenly.
Friends described how he had been attacked on at least one occasion in the days leading up to his death, and he had scratches and bruises on his face and body.
However, Truro Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that Mr Covington also had heart disease, a liver condition, and was prone to falls when drunk, all of which could have killed him. No alcohol or illegal drugs were found in his blood.
Dr Debbie Cook, a forensic pathologist, said: “I can’t exclude the possibility that an alleged assault earlier that weekend gave rise to injuries that led to his death. Equally there were a number of natural diseases present, including chronic alcoholism, which could explain the death.”
In separate statements, read to the court, three witnesses said Mr Covington had been the victim of an assault as he slept in the grounds of St Michael’s Church in the days preceding his death.
Karen Lighthouse said her friend had told her he and a pal had been “woken up by a group of lads kicking them in their sleeping bags”.
Her partner, Hayden Lord, said Mr Covington had also told him he and a friend were assaulted by a couple of lads, leaving him with injured ribs and scratches to his face.
He said: “As far as I’m aware there’s no reason why anyone would want to assault them. They are nice sound blokes.”
Detective Constable Adam Barfield, of Newquay CID, said conflicting stories about the assault had made it impossible for police to ascertain for sure what happened and when.
He said one mental health worker had told police she understood Mr Covington had been attacked after interrupting a “homosexual tryst” in the churchyard between two men who wished to silence him.
Mr Covington was discovered under a metal walkway at the harbour at 9.46pm, and was last seen alive around an hour earlier.
He was found with his throat resting on one of the metal bars, leading Dr Cook to speculate he may have died due to “positional asphyxia”, causing him to choke to death.
In her statement, Miss Lighthouse paid tribute to her friend, saying: “He was an alcoholic but was trying to stop. He was a peaceful person and a bit of a hippy and a free spirit. I never saw him be nasty, even when drunk.”
Coroner Emma Carlyon recorded an open verdict. The cause of death was said to be “undetermined”.