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Mum's agony over 'woman who failed to act' as teen died of drugs in her home

By Brett Campbell

The mother of a Newtownards youth who died after taking so-called legal highs has criticised his friend's grandmother for not doing anything to save her son as he lay in her house.

Adele Wallace was speaking after Coroner Patrick McGurgan found that her 17-year-old son Adam Owens died on April 13, 2013 from aspiration pneumonia caused by taking the drugs.

The inquest heard how Adam had been taking drugs in a house in Newtownards while his friend's grandmother sat downstairs watching TV.

Agnes Taylor failed to act despite an ambulance being called to the house before Adam's death to take another boy to hospital - and even after her own grandson performed CPR on him as he desperately tried to save the teenager's life.

Ms Wallace said outside the court: "I am very upset and I find it distressing to actually think that there was a full grown, responsible adult in the home that night who didn't act or intervene or even try to."

The court was told how Adam and friends - Daniel Swindle and Dylan McNeill - had purchased 1.5 grams of a substance known as 'Sky High'.

They then returned to Daniel's house in Bristol Park, Newtownards. It was there that they used a makeshift bong to smoke the substance, which resulted in Dylan and Adam having an adverse reaction.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr James Lyness told the court that it was reasonable to assume that Adam's gag reflexes had been "suppressed by the toxins".

He stated his belief that Adam had been dead for a number of hours before an ambulance was called at 4am.

The inquest heard that Daniel's grandmother, Taylor, who lives at the Bristol Park address, was downstairs watching golf on television all evening.

She said that she knew nothing about drugs in the house and did not allow anyone to take drugs. It emerged that another ambulance had been called earlier the same evening to the property and Dylan was taken to hospital. Ms Taylor said that she was told that Dylan was diabetic and had low sugar levels.

"I was in the living room. The paramedics came in the back," she said.

It was when she went to the toilet at midnight that she heard someone being sick in Daniel's bedroom. She was told "everything was fine", that it was just Adam being sick.

She told the court that was the first time she knew Adam was in the house. It also emerged that when Daniel - who was not required to attend the inquest - had phoned for help he was instructed by paramedics to begin chest compressions on Adam.

The coroner pushed Ms Taylor repeatedly on why she seemed unable to have any control in her own home. Mr McGurgan asked her: "Even when you knew that your grandson was being instructed to perform CPR on Adam, you didn't know anything?"

Ms Taylor replied: "No, I didn't."

When Mr McGurgan suggested that Daniel had "the complete run of the house", Ms Taylor responded: "You are probably right."

Ms Taylor was asked if she regretted her behaviour on that night.

She replied "I do", adding: "I didn't think it would have come to what it did come to."

Adam's mother described her son's struggle with drug use since the age of 13. She told the court how she watched him "change from a very bright wee boy with a great personality" to someone who was "depressed and aggressive" and who had been "self-harming pretty badly".

She said she turned everywhere for help, but "felt that nobody was listening" to her.

Eventually she tried to stop giving her son money, but because the drugs were so cheap, it didn't work.

"If your child asks for money for a McDonald's, that's enough for a legal high," she warned. "The drugs totally ruined him."

The court was told that Adam had been living with his father, Karl Owens, in the months prior to his death. Mr Owens described his son's behaviour in those months as "out of control" and said Adam just "wasn't himself".

In closing, the coroner said Adam "had everything going for him in life until the drugs got a grip of him".

He expressed his hope that this tragedy would be a lesson to other young people who may be taking, or thinking about taking, legal highs. He urged them to "think twice about the consequences".

Speaking after the inquest, Adam's mum said: "No parent should ever have to go to an inquest for their 17 year-old who passed away because of a drug that is so cheap and toxic. It's like playing Russian roulette, nobody knows the compounds."

Ms Wallace also warned that cannabis had been a "gateway drug" for her son.

"People argue about it, saying it's fine - it's not fine. My son started using it and now I'm standing outside his inquest."

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