Inquest Into Hampshire Festival Death
12 February 2014, 13:33
The father of an "intelligent, caring" 18-year-old girl who died after taking horse tranquilliser drug ketamine has described how "one act of stupidity has destroyed our family".
Ellie Rowe, from Glastonbury, Somerset, took the class C drug while attending the Boomtown Fair festival in Winchester, Hampshire, last summer.
An inquest heard that the teenager was volunteering as a steward for Oxfam at the event with a friend, Stephanie Peirce, on August 8 when she snorted a line of ketamine powder having drunk a few cans of Carlsberg lager during the day.
In a statement read to the Winchester inquest, Miss Peirce, also 18, described how she fell asleep in their tent after taking the drug and came around to find Miss Rowe unconscious.
She said: "Ellie was unconscious, I tried to wake her up but she wouldn't, at the time I thought she felt a bit cold, I got a bit worried so I tried different methods of waking her up, speaking loudly, shaking her.
"I stumbled out of the tent and I asked the first person I saw to help me because I couldn't wake her up."
The inquest heard that on-site paramedics attempted to revive Miss Rowe, including giving her an emergency tracheotomy to aid her breathing, until an ambulance arrived and took her to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester where she was pronounced dead.
Pathologist Dr Adnan Al-Badri told the hearing that toxicology tests showed that Miss Rowe had 2.14mg of ketamine per litre of blood in her system which was the second lowest recorded fatal dosage of the drug recorded.
He said that she had 88mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood which is 1.1 times the drink-drive limit.
Dr Al-Badri explained that the use of alcohol exacerbated the danger of taking ketamine.
He said: "In combination, she actually caused more damage than if she had taken ketamine alone."
Coroner Sarah Kirby recorded a narrative verdict which stated that Miss Rowe died as a result of alcohol and ketamine toxicity and central nervous system depression having taken ketamine and alcohol.
She said that Miss Rowe had snorted approximately 200mg of the drug from two wraps of ketamine that the pair had bought from a ``friend of a friend'' at the festival.
She said: "Ellie was a young girl who would have had no idea whatsoever that what she did would cause her death.
"She was 18, it is not that she was an habitual drug user, she thought it would be fine, she didn't think about it."
Speaking after the inquest, Miss Rowe's family said they wanted to warn others of the dangers of taking ketamine, especially in combination with alcohol.
Her father, Anthony Rowe, a self-employed businessman and caretaker, said: "She was very responsible, it's an absolute tragedy, it was one act of stupidity and that can destroy a family.
"This wasn't some major drug use."
Mr Rowe, who was informed of his daughter's death on his 58th birthday (August 9), described how his daughter was independent and outgoing.
He said that Miss Rowe, who had sisters, Iona, 20, and Belinda, 16, had been named as British Army cadet of the year after completing an outward-bound survival course in Canada.
He added that they would be collecting her Duke of Edinburgh gold medal next month at a ceremony in London, and just days before her death she had completed a cycling tour of the Bulgarian mountains.
He said: "I always imagined that if any harm came to her, it would be a bungee jump or a canoe down a fierce river, an accident on a mountain bike, nothing like this.
"She was extremely sensible, it's an absolute tragedy for our family."
He said that he hoped her death would be a sad reminder to others of the dangers of taking illegal drugs, particularly those in powder form.
He said: "The main message is do not take any powder because you do not know what is in it, you do not know the strength of it, you do not know how your metabolism will act upon it, you run the risk of causing harm to your whole family which we feel with all our hearts."
Iona added: "She was very independent, very personable, loved talking to people."
Describing her sister, who intended to go on to university to become a lawyer, Miss Rowe said:
"She was always my leader because she was the stronger, more independent character."
Her mother, Wendy Teasdill, 56, who works as a yoga teacher, said: "Our beloved daughter and sister was the heart of our family.
"Six months later we are still in a state of shock.
"Ellie was a highly intelligent person who liked to research everything from the contents of her cat food to background searches on the poets she studied for A-level and biogs on every actor in the Harry Potter movies, no fact was too obscure for Ellie.
"The fact she failed to research the effects of ketamine on the human body system beggars belief.
"It is well-documented that alcohol and ketamine do not go well together but I feel that it should really be reinforced - if you take even a small amount of ketamine and a small amount of alcohol, you could die.
"We can only say that for an intelligent person, Ellie did a very stupid thing, perhaps she thought she was taking a calculated risk or perhaps she was tired of thinking.
"She spent her whole life thinking and she always liked to explore.
"It's possible to imagine for her it would be all too attractive to stop thinking for a while and simply experiment in the false liberation of intoxication.
"Nothing will bring our beautiful daughter back, if anything positive is to come out of our daughter's death it might be the sombre reminder that looks, brains, fitness and sheer enthusiasm for human experience are no match for the toxic blend of alcohol and ketamine.''
Mr Rowe added: "We would very much like to stress, do not take ketamine, but if you do take ketamine, do not take anything else, just drink water."
The Government announced today that ketamine is to be upgraded to a Class B banned substance.
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said he hoped to send a message that the drug is harmful - but at the same time raised questions over the effectiveness of the classification system to control drug use.
Ketamine, also known as Special K, will be reclassified from Class C to B in the face of mounting evidence over its physical and psychological harms.
Government drug advisers have uncovered evidence of users as young as 20 having their bladders removed due to heavy consumption of the drug.
Reclassification will mean the maximum penalty for unlawful possession of ketamine will increase from two to five years in jail, while the maximum penalty for trafficking offences will continue to be 14 years imprisonment.
But speaking at a drug treatment centre in west London, Mr Baker said: "I'm not sure in the very long term that the present system is a perfect one for drug control."
He went on: "What I do think is in the short term there's a message that needs to be sent on ketamine. In terms of where we're going in 20 or 30 years time, in terms of the optimum method of minimising drug use then I'm not sure.
"It certainly after all hasn't stopped drug use by classification. But what it does do is send a message to those who are interested.
"You have to assume some drug users actually care about their bodies, therefore saying to them this is more dangerous than that, what they will take into account and what they will actually do."
He went on: "The classification has a value in giving a steer to people at the very least. However, people still take drugs and are still getting convicted for having them."
"It's better to send a signal than not to send a signal."