Coroner at inquest of young Dungannon woman says taking drugs like playing ‘Russian roulette’

Alice Devlin with her dad, Padraig Devlin
Alice Devlin with her dad, Padraig Devlin

Young Dungannon woman Alice Devlin was killed by a drug that may also have claimed the lives of 19 others across Northern Ireland, an inquest has heard.

The 18-year-old, from 2 Cloneen in the town, was found unresponsive by paramedics who were called to her home early on Saturday, August 10 last year.

Giving evidence at the July 22 inquest, state pathologist Alastair Bentley and Siobhan Kirk, senior scientific officer at Forensic Science NI, both agreed that Alice had died as a result of taking “4,4-Dimenthylaminorex with mixed cathinone toxicity” - often found in pill-form with the street name Speckled Cherry.

“Until recently this drug has rarely been encountered as a drug of abuse, therefore there is little information available about it’s toxic effects”, Ms Kirk explained.

A small amount of cannabis and alcohol were also found in her blood.

Padraig Devlin, whose testimony was read out in court, painted a picture of his daughter as a healthy young woman whose moods were low after she suffered a miscarriage in April 2013.

“We suspected she had been taking drugs”, he explained, but added that when he approached Alice she “admitted that she had been taking Meth for a few months” and they sought help.

On the night Alice took the drug that claimed her life, Mr Devlin said he and his wife had gone to their caravan in Newcastle, while Alice stayed at home with “her friend Cheslea”.

Giving evidence in court, Chelsea Kelly said she was with Alice from around 4.30pm on Friday August 9, and that the “plan for the evening was to have a few friends round for drinks”.

In her statement she admitted seeing “four tablets on the sofa” at Alice’s that afternoon, and that she called 999 after seeing Alice “squirming around the bed... wretching and saying random words” in the early hours of the following morning.

DC Nicola Kerton called into question Miss Kelly’s statement, telling the court that information had been withheld from police and that “a lot of lies were told to us”.

“We had to seize Chelsea’s phone, but she still wasn’t forthcoming on who provided them [the drugs].

“I believe that Chelsea knows exactly where the drugs came from,” she added.

Dean Gallagher gave evidence that he and Miss Kelly had provided the £50 to buy “10 pills and two grams of meth” that night, but said Alice had organised the transaction, while Dean Montgomery, flanked by two prison guards, said both girls “looked like they had taken some sort of drug” when he arrived at the house around 12.30am, and that he later took two of the pills which he described as “white in colour with a cherry symbol”.

A further witness, Niamh Agnew, who said she arrived at Alice’s around 4.15am, described how she and Chelsea had attended Alice as she was “lying in her vest and pants” in a back bedroom.

Describing Alice’s last moments, she said: “I noticed a change in Alice’s breathing, it became short, she then turned grey and seemed to take, what I would describe as her last breath. [Then] the paramedics arrived and began working on her.”

On hearing all the evidence, Senior Coroner John Leckey, called on those present that night to tell police who sold the drugs that killed Alice, and urged the PPS to consider charges of manslaughter.

“To say that 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.

Mr Leckey went on: “I think clearly from the evidence, Alice had her problems [but]... efforts had been made to try and persuade Alice to turn her back on drugs”.

Highlighting the effect that these drugs have had on 20 young lives throughout Northern Ireland, he extended his sympathy to the Devlin family.

But added: “Anyone who takes these pills is playing Russian roulette with their life.”