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Norfolk coroner’s concern over widespread solvent abuse after ruling teenager’s death was accidental

Norfolk coroner, William Armstrong, at the Coroner's Court. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk coroner, William Armstrong, at the Coroner's Court. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Norfolk coroner William Armstrong has voiced his concerns about the widening problem of solvent abuse amongst teenagers - as he brought an inquest into a 15-year-old’s death to a close.

Family and friends of Levi-Harry Maxwell, from Hopton-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth, listened on as the coroner delivered a verdict of accidental death at Norwich Coroner’s Court yesterday.

Mr Armstrong said the youngster died accidentally due to the use of butane gas, whilst under a care order.

He died at James Paget University Hospital on Tuesday, July 24 last year, after attempts by his brother, Lewis, and paramedics to recussitate him proved unsuccessful.

Sargeant John Wilkins, from Gorleston police station, said a half-empty cannister of butane gas had been found alongside the teenager’s body, in the grounds of the ruins of St Margaret’s Church in Hopton, along with another used can in a nearby bush.

Matthew Project gives coroner advice

The coroner’s call for more people to be aware of the dangers of solvent abuse come after he spoke with Norfolk drug and alcohol charity The Matthew Project.

In his closing remarks of the inquest into the death of 15-year-old Levi-Henry Maxwell, Mr Armstrong took the opportunity to read a statement from Naomi Selim, The Matthew Project’s under-18 service manager for Norfolk.

Ms Selim said: “The under-18 service works with young people who are using a range of substances. In several cases they have been referred to us for their use of alcohol or cannabis and solvent use is only disclosed at a later stage once the young person has built up a relationship with a worker.

“It is very difficult to estimate the prevelance of solvent use among young people in Norfolk, however, during 2012 The Matthew Project Under18 Service undertook a survey with over 1,000 young people, looking at their knowledge and experience of drugs and alcohol.

“Of the young people who responded, 5pc reported that they had tried nitrous oxide (common inhalent), with the average age of first use being 14 years old.

“In addition our universal workers have reported an increase over the last year in young people raising questions about solvents during drug education sessions.”

Legally, the Consumer Protection Act bans retailers from selling cigarette lighter refill canisters containing butane to anyone under the age of 18.

For more information, advice or details of the services offered, go to www.matthewproject.co.uk

In his closing speech Mr Armstrong said he had discussed his solvent abuse worries with Norfolk drug and alcohol charity The Matthew Project, saying: “I want to say that solvent abuse is clearly a significant problem, especially among teenagers.

“We all must realise the effects of solvent abuse and be aware of the signs that youngsters may be using dangerous solvents.

“I am unashamedly using this hearing to highlight the dangers and that help, guidance and support are available from The Matthew Project.”

During the hearing it was said that Levi-Harry had been in care since he was just six years old and had been living with his current foster parents, Ian and Keri Brunning, of Coast Road, Hopton, since February 2011.

Mr Armstrong said Levi-Harry was being “very well cared for” by his foster parents and had a generally happy home life, although at school he “certainly behaved very differently”.

It was also explained that sometime during the autumn of 2011 the youngster had stayed round a friend’s house and been caught sniffing from a butane cannister.

The friend’s father informed Mr and Mrs Brunning of what had happened and they asked family support worker Richard Farrar to speak to him about the dangers of solvent abuse.

Lewis Maxwell, 19, told how his younger brother had taken his wallet and used his identification to purchase the cans and how he and their friends had thought Levi-Harry was just messing around when they first found him in the church yard.

Mr Armstrong said postmortem examinations had also found traces of cannabis in his body saying: “The most likely cause of death was as a result of butane gas. This cannot be absolutely proved but there were no natural diseases and Levi was a naturally fit and healthy young man.”

Mr Armstrong, in his closing speech, added: “Levi was no angel, but then none of us are, all of us are good and bad in our own ways, but what is clear is that he had a great character, was a warm and loving person and I accept also Ian’s comment that he was a youngster with great potential.

“Had this tragedy not happened there are good grounds to believe that he would have moved on with his life and achieved great things.”

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