Coroner's concerns over unsupervised 16 and 17 years olds at Leeds Festival after girl's drug death

A coroner has raised concerns about 16 and 17 year olds being allowed at Leeds Festival unsupervised after hearing a  girl died after taking a cocktail of drugs at the August  2019 event.
Anya BuckleyAnya Buckley
Anya Buckley

Senior Coroner Kevin McLoughlin said he will send a prevention of future deaths report to Leeds City Council - which grants a premises licence to the festival - after an inquest heard 17 year old Anya Buckley collapsed and later went into cardiac arrest at the festival site in Bramham Park.

Medical staff tried to revive Anya, but she was declared dead just after 3.30am on August 24 2019.

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Mr McLoughlin said he is concerned that 16 and 17 year olds are allowed to go to the festival unsupervised in a situation where drugs are available and young teenagers are "easy prey."

The inquest heard Anya, who was at the festival with a group of around 16 friends, had been enjoying going on the waltzers at the fairground earlier in the night.

Toxicology results showed Anya, of Oldham - who one witness said had taken drugs before but the court heard was not a regular user - had a combination of ecstasy, ketamine and cocaine in her system at the time of her death.

After recording a conclusion of drug related death, Mr McLoughlin said he would send a Regulation 28 prevention of future deaths report to Leeds City Council and ask the local authority to consider increasing the minimum age for unsupervised festival goers.

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Anya's mum Lisa Bulmer and father Peter Buckley, wrote in a statement read to the court: "We are both utterly devastated and heartbroken at the loss of our daughter."

Lisa Bulmer said after the hearing: "In the north west there is a culture of 16 and 17 year old school leavers attending Leeds Festival.

"For me, the burning issue is that you can't go into a pub and drink legally until you are 18.

"The bigger risk at a festival is the amount of drugs in circulation. Because of the culture of that age group, being allowed in the festival from 16 without an adult, they are absolutely vulnerable.

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"If the age was raised it gives the parents more power to talk to the children and stop them going."

Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic which stages Leeds Festival, was barely audible due to technical issues when he appeared at the inquest via Skype.

Mr McLoughlin asked him if there should be a restriction on 16 and 17 year olds being allowed entry to the festival unsupervised.

Mr Benn replied: "That wouldn't be my view."

Mr Benn said that if people under the age of 18 cannot attend legal events they will "find a way to attend illegal events" where there would be more risk to their health.

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Mr Benn said there is welfare advice 24 hours a day at the festival, with large messages warning people about the misuse of drugs displayed on screens in between artists performing.

Paramedic Daniel Spencer said he was called to the 'Orange Caravan' at the festival site at 2.30am on August 24.

Anya was taken by ambulance to the site medical centre, where her condition deteriorated

A doctor was among a team of eight medics involved in efforts to revive Anya for 35 minutes before she was pronounced dead.

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The inquest heard Dr Paul Smith, who conducted toxicology tests, said results showed presence of levels of ecstasy previously associated with fatalities.

He said there was evidence of recreational cocaine and ketamine use.

Mr McLoughlin said forensic pathologist Dr Matthew Lyall concluded that Anya died as a result of mixed drug toxicity, adding: "MDMA (ecstasy) toxicity is likely to have been the central factor in the fatal outcome."

Detective Constable Stephen Bywater of West Yorkshire Police said an investigation found that Anya took illicit drugs voluntarily before collapsing.

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The inquest heard criminal proceedings are currently ongoing at Leeds Crown Court.

Mr McLoughlin said there were 3,414 drug related deaths across the country in 2019, describing the problem as a "drug epidemic that has taken hold of this country."

Mr McLoughlin said "On one level, drug taking is an individual choice. I ask anyone hearing of Anya's death to appreciate that if you take illicit drugs you may die. That is the stark reality of the situation.

"On another level we have events such as the Leeds Festival, which is popular, sanctioned by Leeds City Council.

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"It would be naive of us, from what we have heard today, to think the prevalence of drugs at such events is not exceedingly high."

Mr McLoughlin added: "We have young people, who are hungry for excitement, no doubt wanting to appear as cool as everybody else, and they become easy prey, being tempted to become involved in drug taking."

Mr McLoughlin said Anya was "tempted by circumstances" to take drugs with tragic results.

He added: "I'm concerned it would be all too easy for young people to be drawn into unwise decisions with fatal consequences."

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A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said after the inquest: "We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Anya’s family, and all other families who have experienced a similar tragedy.

"As always, we will carefully consider any recommendations from the coroner once we receive them, and take any appropriate action.”