Belfast Telegraph

Coroner faced with tidal wave of drug deaths, Gary McGee inquest hears

By Donna Deeney

Courts in Northern Ireland are dealing with a "tidal wave" of drug-related deaths as more and more families are being destroyed, a coroner has warned.

Patrick McGurgan was speaking as he presided over the inquest of 32-year-old father Gary McGee, from Drummond Park in Ballykelly, who died on August 29 last year of cocaine poisoning after a two-day binge.

Mr McGee's partner said she thinks about him "every minute, every second, of every day" and warned that "drugs destroy families".

Alana Doherty explained that she had known Mr McGee, an unemployed plumber, since her school days and had been in a relationship with him for four years during which they had two children together.

It was only in the last two years that she became aware that Mr McGee was using drugs.

However, she didn't think he was addicted because he could go for "months" without using.

She added that he would go on a binge for days at a time.

She said she and Mr McGee had rowed considerably because of his drug-taking and that he had been told by social services he couldn't live in the family home because of it.

Ms Doherty broke down in tears on the witness stand saying she wished she had got help for Mr McGee hours before he died.

She recalled how she heard a car arrive at her home around 6am on August 29, 2016 and knew that it was Mr McGee, who had been driven to the property by a man and woman who didn't come inside with him.

Ms Doherty said that she knew by looking at Mr McGee he had been using drugs.

She said she picked up a "plastic bag with white powder" that she guessed was cocaine which he had left on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and put it outside intending to dispose of it when Mr McGee left.

"I don't think he even knew where he put it, he was that far gone. When I look back now, I should have phoned an ambulance and got him help," she said.

"That's something I will have to live with for the rest of my life."

Mr McGee left the house but returned shortly after 9am when, according to Ms Doherty, he was in an agitated state, he "kept putting his hood up, hood down and walking around in circles".

"I told him not to come back if he was going to keep taking drugs, but he wouldn't listen when he was like that," she said.

"When he wasn't on drugs, he was the best in the world, he was brilliant, fantastic. I don't think he knew it was going to happen because if he did he wouldn't do it to us, he was just being stupid - drugs just destroy families."

The court heard that after leaving Ms Doherty's home he arrived back at the house belonging to Brian 'Barney' Crossan in Ballykelly, where he resumed taking cocaine.

Mr Crossan told the court that he had been "devastated" by Mr McGee's death and that as a result he was trying to get help with his own addiction.

Mr Crossan said he and Mr McGee had begun taking cocaine on the Saturday at around 10.30pm and continued through the night into Sunday, not even stopping to eat.

He said that by around 2am on Monday he was hallucinating because the cocaine was "too strong".

He phoned two friends to come and take Mr McGee home and they left around 6am when Mr Crossan fell asleep but woke again when Mr McGee returned.

Mr Crossan told the court that Mr McGee used a 2mm needle to inject the cocaine. He said he then went upstairs to get a shower and sleep. When he came back Mr McGee was lying on the kitchen floor, but Mr Crossan at first thought he was asleep before realising he had died.

Mr Crossan ran across to a neighbour who was trained in first aid and when she arrived she told Mr Crossan to ring the emergency services, but she knew "by looking at him" that Mr McGee was dead.

Mr McGurgan said: "As coroner, I am faced with what can only be described as a tidal wave of inquests for drug-related deaths. If there is any positive message from having an inquest, it may be that someone will read the article in the Press and that Gary's death will prevent even one other death."

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