Belfast Telegraph

Killed... by drug bought for price of a pint

By Adrian Rutherford

The sparkling blue eyes and relaxed smile frozen in time by the camera are memories the family of Alice Devlin will always treasure.

A precious photograph, taken four days before her death last summer, captures the teenager's fun-loving personality and zest for life.

She was, say her family, a young woman full of goodness killed by a growing evil in society.

"Alice was a bubbly, beautiful, loving wee girl," her father Pat said. "She had so much to look forward to. She was doing well at college, she had ambitions, and she had the personality to realise those ambitions."

However, those hopes and dreams were snatched away last August when she died after taking drugs at a house party. She was only 18.

Alice had taken a tablet she thought was Ecstasy but which actually contained cathinones and 4,4-dimethylaminorex, a stimulant linked to 20 deaths across Northern Ireland in the last year.

The tablets are also known as speckled cherries.

"As far as I know Alice only had one tablet," her father adds. "She wasn't in the habit of taking drugs regularly, and she'd only started after falling into another girl's company a few months beforehand.

"In fact she had been very anti-drugs before that."

Alice Devlin's death is a stark illustration of the hidden tragedy behind a deadly epidemic gripping Northern Ireland society.

A PSNI officer told yesterday's inquest that dangerous drugs are now cheaper than a night out. In Alice's case, a batch of tablets and two grams of methedrone had been bought for just £50.

"In effect we're talking about [one tablet] being no dearer than the cost of a pint of beer," senior coroner John Leckey remarked.

Mr Devlin has spoken out about his daughter's death in the hope of raising awareness about the dangers of substance abuse. He said no other family should endure the suffering they have experienced over the last year.

A student at South West College in Dungannon, Alice hoped to become a social worker and work with children.

"She was a happy, bubbly girl – just like any other teenager," her father said. "She was into her hair, she would change hair colour regularly. She was blonde, dark – before her death she had gone red."

Her other hobbies included music, fashion and dancing. Occasionally she would accompany her father to biking events.

Looking at a photograph of Alice on his phone, Mr Devlin remarks: "She was a real daddy's girl. She was understanding, affectionate and caring. Always smiling. Just a loving, happy person. That's the only way I can describe her. She was the girl all her friends turned to when they had a problem."

In the year or so before her death, a number of personal circumstances had seen Alice's mood change, and she became depressed.

Last June her parents noticed her mood was changing. They suspected Alice had been taking drugs and, when confronted, she admitted doing so and asked them for help.

Although professional support was sought, Alice continued to occasionally abuse drugs.

The last time Mr Devlin saw his daughter was the night of her death, Friday, August 9. He recalls her being in good form as he left home, shortly after 7pm, to head to Newcastle for a short break with his wife.

Later that night several young friends called at Alice's home. At one stage two of them placed an order for drugs via a simple mobile phone call. They paid £50 for the batch of 10 tablets and methedrone.

Alice took at least one of the tablets.

Soon her friends realised something wasn't right. Eyewitnesses recalled how she appeared hot, flustered and agitated. She went upstairs to take a cold shower and went to bed.

"We could see she was in a bad way," one told the inquest.

Another friend recalled the final, harrowing moments as Alice's life slipped away.

"I noticed a change in her breathing. It seemed slower and shorter," she said. "She then turned grey and seemed to take what I would describe as her last breath."

The PSNI interviewed all those present that night and seized their phones in the hope of finding the person who supplied the drugs which killed Alice.

Police now believe they know who that person was.

A file was passed to the Public Prosecution Service but, because of evidential reasons, they did not proceed with a prosecution.

Eyewitness testimony which police believe will tie the supplier to Alice's death is missing. Crucially, police believe one of Alice's friends can provide that information, but she has refused to co-operate fully with detectives.

"I believe she knows exactly who supplied the drugs," a detective constable told the court.

Mr Devlin also suspects he knows who supplied the drugs. However, approaching the first anniversary of his daughter's death, he has not yet been able to get any form of justice.

The passage of time, he says, has not lessened the pain and suffering of his family and he is desperate to ensure no other family has to suffer the same agony.

"As the coroner said, these things are like Russian roulette," Mr Devlin said. "I can't really think of anything more powerful to say than that.

"I just hope people will stop and think twice about taking these things in the future."

Stay away from drugs, begs dad of teen victim

The heartbroken father of an 18-year-old girl who died after taking a lethal tablet "no dearer than the cost of a pint" has appealed for young people to stay away from drugs.

Alice Devlin suffered a fatal adverse reaction after swallowing what she believed was Ecstasy.

The tablet actually contained a deadly stimulant which has been linked to the deaths of 19 other young people across Northern Ireland in the last year.

Now this latest tragedy has prompted a coroner to urge prosecutors to consider bringing manslaughter charges in cases of drug deaths.

Alice's grieving father Pat said anyone who takes the drug is gambling with their life.

"Just don't do it," he said. "I don't know how to word it strongly enough, I really don't. The coroner's description was a very good turn of phrase. He said it's Russian roulette – and that's exactly what you're doing if you take these drugs."

Alice, a student at South West College in Dungannon, died in the early hours of August 10 last year at her home in the town's Cloneen estate.

She had taken a tablet containing 4,4-Dimethylaminorex and three stimulants – methylone, methylmethcathinone and fluoromethcathinone.

The stimulants are often found in pill form and go by the street name "speckled cherry".

The tablet which 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.

Yesterday an inquest heard that the same or similar components of the drug have been linked to 19 other recent deaths.

Dr Alastair Bentley, the deputy state pathologist, told Coroner John Leckey it was possible more deaths currently under investigation could be linked to the drugs.

Dr Bentley said some people had bought pills wrongly believing they were Ecstasy.

"The purchaser doesn't know what they are buying, they don't know what's in them and they don't know the concentration," he said in his testimony.

Mr Devlin told the inquest at Dungannon courthouse that his daughter had been suffering low moods since early 2012.

By the following June, he suspected she was taking drugs.

Mr Devlin said that when confronted, his daughter admitted that she had been taking "meth" for a brief period and they sought help.

On the night she died, Mr Devlin and his wife had gone to a caravan in Newcastle. He said Alice had been "in good form" before they left.

During the course of that night a number of young people came to visit Alice. Several said they suspected Alice and a friend, who had been with her since late afternoon, had both taken drugs.

A number of witnesses told the court how, later that night, Alice felt unwell and went upstairs for a cold shower before going to bed.

One eyewitness told the inquest how she appeared to be "in a bad way". An ambulance was called but paramedics were unable to save her.

The inquest heard that two of Alice's friends had supplied the £50 used to buy the tablets which probably killed her.

"£50 for 10 tablets and two grams of meth – in effect we're talking about [the tablet] being no dearer than the cost of a pint of beer," Mr Leckey remarked.

Although police believe they know who supplied the drugs, the Public Prosecution Service opted against proceeding with charges.

A detective constable said she believed one of Alice's friends had crucial information which had not been passed to police.

Mr Leckey said it was "a disgrace" that information had been withheld.

"To say I am not impressed is an understatement," he said. "If anyone has information that could lead to a prosecution they are duty bound to tell police."

He urged the PPS to consider bringing manslaughter charges in such cases.

Mr Leckey had a strong warning to those who experiment in drugs.

"The bottom line is that anyone taking these substances is at real risk of dying," he said. "The chance of further deaths must be a very real one."

Deaths linked to toxic tablets

By Claire Williamson

In June and July this year inquests took place examining some of the drug-related deaths of people in Northern Ireland who died between May and September 2013.

In the Coroner's Court it was revealed that 20 deaths had been linked to a new unregulated drug introduced to Northern Ireland last year. Among them were:

  • Brian Mills (41), from Shore Road in Kircubbin, Co Down, who died at his home on August 3, 2013, after an all-night drinking session. His son James and his friend returned from the shop to find Mr Mills complaining of being too warm. They made attempts to cool him down. James said his father appeared to stop breathing and looked as though he was having a fit.

A post-mortem examination found Mr Mills died from toxicity caused by 4,4-Dimethylaminorex – also known as 'speckled cherries' or 'speckled cross' – combined with toxicity from Ecstasy drugs MDMA and MDA.

  • Alan John William McKenzie (26), known as Alio, was found dead by his friend in his bedroom on June 25 after no-one had heard from him following an all-weekend party of drink and drugs. Mr McKenzie, from Bendigo Street, Belfast, had attended a barbecue at his parents' house and continued to drink with friends from Sunday until noon on Monday. The pathologist said the bar manager died as a result of "poisoning by drugs".
  • Father-of-four David Owens (34) was found unconscious outside the Shankill Leisure Centre in Belfast after a weekend of partying. A post-mortem examination found his "collapse and subsequent death was due to the toxic effects of 4,4-Dimethylaminorex and cocaine".

Mr Owens had earlier promised his nephew he would not take drugs.

On Saturday afternoon he stayed at a friend's house where his behaviour became erratic. Another friend, Jason McCoy, was awoken by the sound of drawers closing. He went downstairs to find Mr Owens in tears. Mr Owens later went to the leisure centre and was seen leaning over the barriers "screaming and shouting". He was found unconscious the next day and died in hospital.

  • Stephen Wray (23), from Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone, was found dead in bed on December 23, 2013, after a drink and drugs binge.

Witness Stephen McNamee told the Coroner's Court sitting in Londonderry he knew him to be a heavy drinker and drug user. He was with Mr Wray from December 20 and they had been drinking from early in the morning through the day into December 22.

A post-mortem confirmed the cause of death was from a high level of 4,4-Dimethylaminorex.

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