Northern Ireland news

Coroner in plea to community at Gillespie drugs death inquest

Thomas Gillespie
By Mairead Holland

THE entire community must help stop the scourge of drugs, a coroner told an inquest in Belfast yesterday.

Joe McCrisken made the appeal as he revealed that yet another death from drugs had been reported yesterday morning.

Police said last week that there have been 10 suspected drugs-related deaths in the greater Belfast area since December.

The coroner was speaking at the investigation into the death of 28-year-old Thomas Gillespie who died on October 31, 2017.

The father-of-one, who lived at Coombe Hill Park in the city's Ballysillan area, passed away from an overdose of cocaine and MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy.

A joiner by trade, he had been at a house party in Bentinck Street in Tigers Bay and had been left to "sleep it off" on the sofa but was found dead just hours later.

PSNI: 10 suspected drugs-related deaths in greater Belfast area since December

Mr McCrisken said this scenario was "sadly not unusual" in Northern Ireland and that he had held many such inquests over the past three years and had investigated "far too many deaths from drugs".

"One drugs death has already been reported this morning in similar circumstances," he said. "When is this going to stop? When is the community going to realise we are all invested in this?

"I have three kids myself, I'm not sitting up here remote from it all. We need to educate people and not just young people. The 20-40 age group is at the highest risk.

"We need education, support and then the courts to deal with it. You don't sleep off a drugs overdose - you need to phone an ambulance straight away.

"The belief that cocaine can be taken recreationally and doesn't have any injurious effects is erroneous."

The coroner commended the work of Tigers Bay father William Burns and his 'One Pill Can Kill' campaign which he began after the death of his son Jamie (23) from an ecstasy overdose in 2016.

Since then, Mr Burns has visited families and schools to educate young people on the dangers of drugs.

"I have met Mr Burns and talked to him about his work and he is doing good work," said Mr McCrisken.

Yesterday's inquest heard that Mr Gillespie, who had a three-year-old daughter with his partner, had taken cocaine and the best part of a bottle of Southern Comfort before going to the party.

Once there, he also took ecstasy.

Assistant state pathologist for Northern Ireland Dr Christopher Johnson, who performed the autopsy, said the amount of ecstasy found in Mr Gillespie's body was at a level associated with fatalities.

He added that the amount of cocaine indicated Mr Gillespie was a relatively recent user of the drug but stressed there is no safe level for cocaine as it can have unpredictable results.

"It can precipitate increased heart rate and then arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat) and then a fatal cardiac arrest," he said.

"MDMA and cocaine are both potent stimulants and I strongly suggest this death was caused by the two substances in combination."

Dr Johnson said that other drugs were also found in Mr Gillespie's system including a cutting agent for cocaine, a low level of ethanol and diazepam. There was also evidence he had taken cannabis.

The court heard Mr Gillespie had turned up at the party at 6 o'clock on the morning of October 31 "drunk and falling all over the place".

An interview given to police by Jonathan Beggs, one of those at the party, was read out in court in which he said there was some MDMA on the kitchen table and that Mr Gillespie "might have taken some".

Mr Gillespie was put on the sofa to "sleep it off" and was left "snoring" while Beggs and others went to another house party.

When they returned a few hours late, Mr Gillespie was said to "look the same" but shortly before 11.30am he was discovered unresponsive.

A paramedic who attended the house around 11.30am said she found Mr Gillespie lying on the living room floor with a man leaning over him doing CPR.

However, Mr Gillespie was already dead.

Mr Gillespie's partner Julie McCord told the court he would have taken cocaine but had taken ecstasy before and "didn't like it".

Two people, Mr Beggs and Emma Hamilton, were each fined £1,000 by Mr McCrisken for failing to turn up at the inquest.

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