PSNI in dark over drug that's killed 21, inquest is told
Police have been unable to identify how a sinister new drug that has killed 21 people is brought into Northern Ireland or who is supplying it, an inquest has heard.
A top detective expressed frustration at the lack of information being given to police by the public about the latest drugs menace.
The revelation came yesterday at the inquest into 21-year-old student Connor Cochrane from Banbridge.
Mr Cochrane, who had Asperger's syndrome and a history of drug and alcohol misuse, died at his home last November after taking a cocktail of substances, including Para Methyl 4 Methylaminorex.
He is the latest of 21 people across Northern Ireland who have died after taking the substance, which is known by other names including "speckled cherries" and "green rolex".
His mother Sharon Cochrane said she wanted to remember him as a caring and unique character who loved music.
And she warned all young people to be aware of the dangers of drugs.
A senior detective heading up the investigation into the lethal drug told the inquest that a lack of information from the public had so far thwarted efforts to bring the pushers to justice.
Detective Inspector Andrew Dunlop said that the drugs – often sold as ecstasy – were most likely imported from The Netherlands, possibly concealed in lorries.
Coroner John Leckey also heard from a senior forensic scientist that Hungary was the only other country where the drug had claimed lives, with eight deaths recorded to date.
It has been found in seven countries worldwide, but nowhere else in the UK as of yet.
Former State Pathologist Jack Crane told the coroner that the drug had caused Mr Cochrane's body to dramatically overheat, leading to fatal swelling of the brain.
Mr Leckey called DI Dunlop to give evidence to provide an overview of the PSNI's efforts to tackle the problem.
The detective, who expressed "frustration" at the inability of current legislation to empower police to strike against new emerging drugs, said police had been unable to definitely prove how the killer tablets had entered Northern Ireland or who was responsible.
He said intelligence would be key to a breakthrough.
"But, as always, that relies on information coming from the public and community and there was not too much of it forthcoming to enable us to focus on the people involved in the supply," said Mr Dunlop.
He insisted his officers were determined to catch the dealers and bring them to justice. "I can assure you Mr Coroner, and indeed the family of Connor, that we definitely have done everything that we can to identify where they were coming from and who was responsible for supplying them," he said.
Senior toxicologist at Forensic Science Northern Ireland, Karen Peters, informed the inquest that there had been several seizures of the drug within the region last year.
Ms Peters said the drug could cause impaired consciousness, organ failure and death and was often manufactured to look like ecstasy tablets.
Mr Leckey said that, in a UK context, the problem seemed to be essentially a Northern Ireland one.
"The solution to the problem is not an easy one – that solution is elusive."
The coroner said he was heartened when Mr Dunlop stated that Stormont's Departments of Health and Justice and Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin were all currently examining the issue.
Recording the cause of Mr Cochrane's death as poisoning by drugs and passing his condolences to his family, Mr Leckey referred to the mounting death toll attributed to the substance in Northern Ireland.
"That's a matter of grave concern to me, and I would have thought Northern Ireland society also, and certainly to police and Government agencies," he said.
"I certainly hope some solution to the problem will be found," added Mr Leckey.
Five who died from the lethal substanceAlice Devlin
(18), from Dungannon, died on August 10, 2013 at her home after taking a tablet that contained 4,4-Dimethylaminorex and three stimulants – methylone, methylmethcathinone and fluoromethcathinone. The speckled cherry tablet that killed Alice is believed to be part of a batch of 10 which had been bought, along with two grammes of methedrone, for just £50.
Brian Mills (41), from Shore Road in Kircubbin, Co Down, died at his home on August 3, 2013 after an all night drinking session. A post-mortem examination found Mr Mills died from toxicity caused by 4,4-Dimethylaminorex – also known as speckled cherries or specked cross – combined with toxicity from ecstasy drugs MDMA and MDA.
Alan 'Alio' McKenzie (26), from east Belfast, was found dead by his friend in his bedroom on June 25, 2013 after no one had heard from him following an all weekend party of drink and drugs. The pathologist said the bar manager died as a result of "poisoning by drugs".
David Owens (34) was found unconscious outside the Shankill Leisure Centre in Belfast after a weekend of partying on June 24, 2013. A post-mortem examination found his "collapse and subsequent death was due to the toxic effects of 4,4-Dimethylaminorex and cocaine".
Stephen Wray (23), from Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone, was found dead in bed on December 23, 2013 after a drink and drug binge. A post-mortem confirmed the cause of death was from a high level of 4,4-Dimethylaminorex.