“Open verdict” into death of Upper Eden man

Date: Friday 20th January 2012

AN “open verdict” was delivered following the inquest of an Upper Eden man who had been taking pills to control the voices he experienced in his head.

Robert Clark, aged 44, of Laburnum Cottage, Winton, Kirkby Stephen, was found dead at his home on 15th May.

Addressing the inquest, his mother, Diane Lawrenson, who lived next door, said she found her son lying at the bottom of the stairs. It looked liked he had fallen down them.

She sought help from neighbour Dr. Huck, who pronounced that Mr. Clark was dead.

The inquest, held at Redhills, near Penrith, was told that Mr. Clark came to live in Winton in 2001 after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He experienced auditory hallucinations, which he heard as conversations in his head. To control the voices and lift his mood, he was taking clozapine and fluoxetine.

Pathologist Dr. Mary Jenkins, who carried out a post mortem, said there was a bruise on the middle of the scalp, abrasions on the right knee and left elbow, and a possible carpet burn on his shoulder. She said she did not know whether he fell down a couple of stairs, but said there was no skull or neck fracture. The injuries he had sustained would not have caused someone to die.

A toxicology report revealed vastly increased levels of clozapine and fluoxetine in his blood along with a “social level” of alcohol about one and a half times the legal limit for driving. The affect of the drugs on cardiovascular and respiratory systems was said to be exacerbated by alcohol.

However, Mrs. Jenkins said the toxicology report was non-conclusive due to complications which can be caused by redistribution syndrome, whereby drugs can build up a concentration in one particular part of the body once someone has died.

Assistant deputy coroner Mrs. Shirley Evans heard that a few days before he died, Mr. Clark took delivery of 14 days worth of medication which was then put in a dispenser. On the day he was found dead, the dispenser was found to be empty.

Because Mrs. Jenkins had been forced to give an unascertained cause of death, due to the doubt cast over the toxicology results but favoured overdose as the most likely scenario the verdict chosen by Mrs. Evans was an “open” one.