On 4th January this year the Hastings and Rother coroner’s office announced that there had been three deaths of homeless people in Hastings in eight days over Christmas. MP (and at that time Home Secretary) Amber Rudd was reported as calling the deaths “a tragedy” but claimed that her Government was taking action “to make life on the streets a thing of the past”. She said that the Government had allocated over £970,000 to Hastings between 2017 and 2019 through a “flexible homelessness support grant” to help fund “a range of homelessness services”.

Inquests into two of the deaths have now taken place. At a hearing in April the Hastings coroner found that Graham Rhodie, described as a rough sleeper, died on 26th December after a long history of drug abuse. And a similar tale of alcoholism, violence and illicit drug-taking emerged before Eastbourne coroner Alan Craze last week in the inquest into the death on 31st December of Sarah Jane Leah, aged 41.

Ms Leah was technically homeless, having been evicted from her last-known address in Trinity Trees, Eastbourne, after being imprisoned for an assault on police. However  the coroner heard that she was in fact found dead in a flat in Mount Pleasant Road, Hastings, where she and her partner were being offered temporary accommodation, after following up a day’s drinking on the street with a cocktail of heroin and cocaine apparently ingested back at the flat.

Her mother and other members of her family were in court, represented by barrister Stephen Clark.  He sought an adjournment of the inquest with a view to pursuing further evidence that she had resorted to excessive drugs on the fatal night because of intimidation from the family of an ex-partner and lack of
police protection for her as prospective witness at his trial. The ex-partner, explained Mr Clark, had been due to stand trial on serious charges of violence the following week.

However, the coroner Mr Craze, while expressing sympathy for the family and describing the death as tragic, did not accept that there was sufficient evidence that this back story was causative for the purposes of the inquest. Ms Leah’s history of drug-taking had started with Ecstasy when she was 16, then moved on to heavy drinking and other substance abuse.  She had consulted in recent years with STAR (East Sussex Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service), which aims to support people with drugs problems ‘to make positive choices and changes to their drug and alcohol use, whatever the level of use’. But Christine Henham, clinical operations manager with Hastings and Rother Mental Health Services, gave evidence of a litany of attempts to enrol her in de-tox programmes which failed because she failed to attend appointments and returned to drug abuse.

The coroner concluded that Ms Leah had died of a “non-dependant abuse of drugs”.

 

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