SOUTHEND’S homeless community is in mourning following the reported death of a vulnerable “cheeky chappy.”

Brian Wiels, known as “Irish Brian” for his pronounced Irish accent and frequently seen under the railway bridge in the High Street, is understood to have died on Thursday following longstanding problems with alcohol and drug addiction.

Homelessness volunteers said he had also suffered from the death of close friend and rough sleeper Stephen Hartington, 35, who was found near Frankie and Benny’s in Southchurch Road, Southend, in October.

It is a further blow to a community already mourning the death of 37-year-old Thomas Barton at Southend Hospital on January 12, after suffering cardiac arrest in the car park of Sainsbury’s in London Road, Southend. Mr Barton’s funeral was held today.

Jo Bates of Homeless Street Hub, which Mr Wiels frequented, said: “It’s so tough for them out there now, with the weather and there being nowhere for them to go during the day anymore, and at least 20 of them haven’t got into the night shelters this year.

“Steve was Brian’s best friend and helped him through a number of illnesses and he took that badly. He wasn’t homeless when he died but he had been homeless for a lot last year.

“He was always loved by everyone and I don’t think anyone would say a bad word against him. Because of his accent, I barely understood a word he said, but he had good banter.”

John Barber of Southend Street Spirit said he had not had confirmation of Mr Wiels’ death but said the homeless community had been deeply troubled by the news.

He said: “it would be a tragedy if Brian had died. I know there are some rough sleepers who are distraught because he was quite a character on the streets.”

Colleague Del Thomas added: “He’d been housed for a little while but used to sleep in the Sainsbury’s car park for about three or four years, and used all the soup kitchens because they’re not just for the homeless, they’re also for vulnerable people.

“He was very much a cheeky chappie and a lovely guy. He was a bit of a charmer, particularly with the ladies, and very much full of craic as the Irish say – so I would be very sad if this is true.”

BRIAN Wiel’s death is the seventh in Southend’s homeless community in six months, according to campaigners.

Speaking to the Echo earlier this month, Del Thomas of Southend Street Spirit said at least six rough sleepers had died in as many months, following the death Thomas Barton after suffering cardiac arrest on January 12.

This came after the death of Stephen Hartington, 35, in Southend Hospital following a heart attack in October. Mr Hartington was found near Frankie and Benny’s in Southchurch Road, Southend.

In August, rough sleeper Gary Dunn, 53, was found collapsed in Leather Lane, Southend, and later died. Jeff Shepherd, 50, was murdered at a home in Beedell Avenue, Westcliff, in July where he had recently been housed.