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Family's anguish as they say farewell to drug victim 'failed by health system'

By Claire McNeilly

The heartbroken family of a young woman who died following a suspected drug overdose have said a final goodbye to a "warm and funny" daughter and sibling.

The funeral service for north Belfast woman Joanne Bowman, also known as Joanne Kirk, was held at 10am yesterday at Roselawn Cemetery ahead of her cremation.

Beforehand there was a private ceremony at the home of her older sister Denise Bowman, who said the 21-year-old was a "very loved" family member who had been let down by the system.

In a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Denise (26) said she and her mother Christine (53) felt that help should have been forthcoming for Joanne's psychiatric and addiction problems.

"Joanne had mental health issues before she took drugs. My mum and I took Joanne as far as we could and then the system failed her," she said.

"I watched her try to get help and no one listened. Then I watched her suffer. I don't think the anger will ever go, because Joanne was let down a lot by professionals.

"After an incident during the summer Joanne was on the floor begging to be admitted to hospital.

"She was crying. She got assessed three or four times, but they kept sending her away."

Denise added: "On Christmas Day she obviously ended up in a bad place but we don't know what happened.

"We have to wait on the toxicology report. All we know is that Joanne died in her sleep." Following her sister's passing Denise said she had been inundated with calls from others in similar circumstances.

"I know Joanne dabbled in drugs," Denise stated.

"I don't know what kind of drugs, or how frequently, but I think she was self-medicating because she wasn't getting the right help.

"Since we lost Joanne so many people have contacted me to say they're in the same boat - trying to get help and struggling. It's unbelievable.

"Someone should have a responsibility to look after young kids in Northern Ireland with mental health issues and drug issues.

"But they're not dealing with it properly and kids are self-medicating."

Joanne, who died on Boxing Day, leaves behind her mum, four sisters and five brothers. Their father Joey died when they were young.

Denise said it was much harder for her family to accept the loss of Joanne because she warned health professionals six months ago that they needed to intervene.

She also spoke of the trauma of discovering the awful truth about her sister's death on Facebook. "We saw a post at 10.44am on December 26 about a young girl being found dead in Ballymurphy, but we didn't know that it was Joanne," she recalled.

"By the time the police came to my mum's house at 4pm with a description of someone we didn't think was Joanne, we were still driving about looking for her.

"I keep a spare key for her house and I went there but she wasn't in. Then I went to her friend's house and she wasn't there either. I went everywhere looking for her. Then I started phoning police stations.

"It wasn't until 9.45pm that night that the police phoned us back to confirm that it was definitely Joanne."

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