Support worker died from overdose of Mexican animal drugs, inquest hears

PUBLISHED: 07:35 06 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:15 06 October 2017

The Old Courthouse in Hatfield, where the inquest was held. Picture: JP Asher

The Old Courthouse in Hatfield, where the inquest was held. Picture: JP Asher


A support worker who had battled mental health problems died after overdosing on animal sedatives secretly ordered from Mexico, an inquest has heard.

Andrew Dale, originally from Welwyn Garden City, was found dead on his bed in a room he rented in Stevenage on December 19 last year.

The 45-year-old had no injuries apart from a small cut on his toe. Near his body were two empty bottles of a Mexican branded veterinary drug usually used to anaesthetise animals.

Coroner Geoffrey Sullivan, sitting at Hatfield’s Old Courthouse, recorded an open verdict at Tuesday’s inquest – explaining that he was satisfied Mr Dale had deliberately taken the drug, but not that he had done so intending to kill himself.

The inquest heard that Mr Dale, who started suffering from anxiety and depression around 2012, had previously contemplated suicide by standing over railway lines and, on another occasion, holding a knife to his throat – but that in the last months of his life, he seemed to have made significant progress.

Mr Dale’s parents Mike and Janine and his partner Alyson Thirtle gave evidence at the inquest, as did Dr Kathryn McManus of Stevenage’s Knebworth and Marymead Medical Practice and Det Con David Anstey of the Stevenage local crime unit.

DC Anstey said that Mr Dale had last been seen alive at home in Shackleton Spring by his landlord on December 18 – when he spent most of the day at the house.

“The landlord saw he seemed to be fine, and nothing struck him as out of place,” said DC Anstey.

“At about 11pm, he saw him in the kitchen getting a glass of water before returning to his bedroom. That was the last time he saw him alive.

“The landlord the next day awoke around 9am. He made himself some breakfast and sent some emails. By 10am, Mr Dale had not emerged – but the landlord didn’t think it was unusual in any great respect. He presumed he was having a lie-in.”

DC Anstey said that at about 2pm on December 19, Mr Dale’s father arrived and asked after his son, prompting the landlord to first call upstairs and then go to Mr Dale’s room.

“He saw him lying on the bed, lying flat on his back, looking on at the ceiling,” said the officer.

“There was no response. His skin was grey in colour.”

Telling the inquest about the tragic moment he set eyes on his son, Mr Dale’s father Mike said: “I knew as a father that he was dead.”

An ambulance arrived at 2.11pm, and two minutes later a paramedic pronounced Mr Dale dead. He found no evidence of any head injury.

The paramedic also located the two bottles of the veterinary drug before police arrived.

Further drugs found in the room included antidepressants, antihistamines and – in the cupboard of Mr Dale’s bedside table – a package of drug bottles, bearing a Mexican postmark from November 2013.

The inquest heard that none of Mr Dale’s family had been aware of these Mexican drugs.

DC Anstey said there were a number of recent searches on Mr Dale’s phone about the drug, including whether it could still work when out of date.

He added that police had concluded there was no outside involvement in Mr Dale’s death.

Mr Dale’s family told the inquest that he had tried to source herbal remedies and use self-help solutions such as spiritual groups to help tackle his mental health problems – with Mrs Dale telling the coroner that her son “didn’t like taking drugs”.

She said: “They went through his belongings, went to his flat, all of the items were about positivity.

“We take some comfort from the fact that in no way could he have taken his own life.”

Mr Dale’s partner of a year Alyson Thirtle said in a statement, read out by the coroner, that he had appeared to be making great strides in the period before his death.

She wrote: “I’m sure it was a tragic accident. We had an amazing year together, and he’d moved most of his belongings into my flat.

“His family said this was the happiest they’d seen him in years. We were soulmates. Unfortunately, people with mental health are left to cope on their own.”

Summing up, the coroner said it was clear that Mr Dale had for years suffered from mental health problems that he had shown signs of wanting to tackle.

He said: “I have a cause of death provided by the pathologist of a drug overdose. His report indicates that the blood concentration is well in range for fatalities.

“Members of the family did not know anything about his having these drugs. He did suffer from mental health problems for a number of years – depression and anxiety. But I’m told this isn’t the sort of drug you’d usually use.

“There’s no reason for him to have it and he had no history of illicit drug use.

“I have the evidence of family and his doctor who feel that leading up to his death he appeared to be doing very well, and there’s also no note of intention to harm himself found anywhere on either his phone or indeed on paper anywhere in his flat.

“So, while I’m sure he did do this act, I’m not sure that he did this act with the intention of bringing about the end of his life. He may have done so given his background and his difficulties, but equally this may simply have been an accident.”

Explaining that he was “not satisfied on either of these conclusions”, the coroner recorded an open verdict.

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