They let her die in agony

The death of a Leeds heroin addict has drastically changed the lives of her family, and raised questions over how the British penal system treats drug addicts. Peter Lazenby reports.

HILARY and Tony Davenport didn't expect to be raising a young family when they both reached their 50s.

That's what has happened though.

Their grandchildren were 13 and eight when the youngsters moved into the couple's pleasant terraced home in Gipton, East Leeds.

The children's mum, Judith McGlinchey, was a heroin addict. It didn't stop her being a loving mum, so loving that she knew she couldn't properly care for her son and daughter – not until she cleaned herself of the addiction which she knew was destroying her life.

She was determined to do that.

She didn't get the chance. After her umpteenth court conviction for stealing – shoplifting, to get money for drugs – a magistrate sent her to prison for four months. An appeal that she be placed on the rehabilitation programme was turned down.

Four weeks later she was dead. She was 30 years of age.

The death of a son or daughter after a long illness is always hard for parents. Ask anyone who has been through it. The death of a son or daughter through drug addiction is, if anything, even harder.

Condemnation

There are the same feelings of desperation, hope, utter helplessness and despair.

But with an illness such as cancer there's a network of support, treatment, hospital, a sharing of the burden with doctors, nurses, other parents. There's even dignity in death, if it comes.

With drugs it's different.

Treatment is not readily available. Society offers little support. Instead of compassion and sympathy there is condemnation and punishment. And death, if it comes, it is often squalid and degrading.

Hilary and Tony Davenport's story is that of a caring family whose lives were affected beyond imagination by their daughter's death from drugs.

Mrs Davenport was born in Lancashire. In between raising four children – Judith was the third – Mrs Davenport worked in the textile industry, doing opposite shifts with her sister so they could look after each other's children.

Then they moved to Leeds from Darwan, near Blackburn. In Leeds she worked in an office, then one time as a cleaner, and at Associated Dairies in Kirkstall Road.

Mr Davenport, who is 55, is a clerk and storeman in the NHS print unit in Saxton Gardens, Leeds. Their hard work has brought them a lovely home.

In Lancashire their daughter Judith was headstrong. "She was always a free spirit," said Mrs Davenport. "Always wanting to do her own thing. She didn't want to go to school – we had a few problems with her that way."

Judith had her first son, Andrew, when she was 17. The relationship with the father lasted only a year. "They were young – you know what I mean," said Mrs Davenport.

By the time Mr and Mrs Davenport moved to Leeds three of their children, including Judith, had left home. Their youngest, Diane came with them.

Judith followed later bringing Andrew with her. She lived with them until she found a place of her own, and then regularly visited her parents. She had three more children, two boys and a girl.

Mrs Davenport noticed a change in their daughter. "She would be 25 or 26. We started to realise something was not right."

Today Mrs Davenport paints a picture which will be recognised by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other parents across Britain.

"It wasn't too bad at the beginning. She had been smoking a bit, dabbling, not injecting.

"At the beginning they think it is all right. They can take it or leave it. They can go a month without. Then it is every month, or fortnight.

"They get different mood swings. They get secretive," she said. "She was asking for money. Sometimes you got it back sometimes you didn't. More often than not you didn't."

Judith was now injecting regularly. She turned to crime to raise the money to meet her need.

"They go shoplifting. They rip-off the catalogues – get things from the catalogue, TVs, anything, and sell them," said Mrs Davenport. "

"They can't eat big meals. They tend to like sweet stuff. I used to give her vitamins," she said.

Seeing the physical changes in her daughter was desperately hard for Mrs Davenport.

"They get like zombies. Their faces go. I can't explain it. It is still so upsetting.

"You just try everything but there is nothing you can do. We did try to get her in places but it is so hard, the waiting list is atrocious. You really have to want to go. It is hard to get residential help. She had counselling and stuff like that. You have just got to try and help them as much as you can. You just hope. It is like going down a dark tunnel. You think please, somebody, do something."

Even in the midst of the nightmare there were glimpses of the old, caring Judith.

"She was right good-hearted, even when she was on heroin. There were people around who couldn't feed their children and she would take their children in and feed them," said Mrs Davenport.

Care

Ironically Judith's old self would often return after she had injected herself.

"When they've had their fix they're quite normal. They are the person they were before. It's just when they haven't got the fix, they have to go and get the money."

Judith reached the stage where she could no longer care for her children, and she knew it. Two of her sons were already living with their fathers. Judith took Andrew and her daughter Natalie to their grandparents. They were 13 and eight.

"She asked if the children could stay here because she couldn't cope," said Mrs Davenport. "She still came round every single night to see the children and give them a cuddle and talk to them. She gave them so much love."

But Judith was heading for the lowest point in her life.

"About three months before she died, she showed me her arms. There were track marks on her arms, where she'd been injecting," said her mum.

"I think they have to hit rock-bottom before they will do something. When they are only dabbling and it isn't affecting them that much they don't want to come off it. Then they get to the bottom. She got to the stage where she was really poorly. They don't eat, all their money goes on it."

Judith's last hope came when she was caught shop-lifting. It meant there was a chance she could jump to the front of the queue for a residential rehabilitation course. It didn't happen.

In prison she began days of vomiting which saw her weight plummit. Her organs finally began to give in. Judith died, aged 30, on January 3, 1999. Hilary and Tony Davenport began the job of again becoming full-time parents again.

Our four-year battle for justice

THE death of Judith McGlinchey has raised questions over how the British penal system treats drug addicts.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Government subjected Ms McGlinchey to "inhuman and degrading treatment" after she was sent to prison for four months for shop-lifting.

Judith died horribly. For the first five days in prison she vomited, again and again, until she was retching up her life's blood.

They call the vomited blood "coffee grounds" because of its browny-black colour and consistency. Her weight fell from 7st 10lb to 6st 4 lb (50k to 40k).

She was prescribed antibiotics for an infected arm but for some reason received only three-quarters of the doses prescribed.

She was given medication to help with her withdrawal.

She was seen by a doctor and received treatment, but she retched away 20 per cent of her body weight before the authorities at New Hall prison in Wakefield sent her to hospital after she finally collapsed in her cell.

Hospital staff said that when she arrived her hair and clothing were matted with vomit.

Three weeks later, on January 3, 1999, she died in Pinderfields hospital in Wakefield. An inquest returned an open verdict on Judith's death, rejecting the option of death from natural causes.

The European Court of Human Rights' ruling was the culmination of four years of persistence by Judith's mother Hilary Davenport, and the family's solicitor Keith Lomax, of Leeds firm Davies, Gore and Lomax.

Mr Lomax said: "Judith McGlinchey had telephoned her mother from the prison three days after her admission to prison, in tears, saying she could not stop vomiting and she thought she was going to die. She said not to bring her children to see her in this state. Four days later she collapsed, having vomited blood, and only then was she rushed to hospital. It was a Monday morning. The prison doctor worked Mondays to Fridays, not weekends."

For two days Judith did not see a doctor. Then she collapsed.

In its defence, the Government gave evidence that Judith had been showing an improvement, and that her condition did not merit the need for earlier hospital treatment.

The President of the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Costa, said: "I cannot understand why the prisoner was not taken to hospital during the first few days of her sentence, when she was vomiting continually, had lost 20 per cent of her body weight in five days and was known to be simultaneously trying to come off drugs.

"I think that all those authorities, for their part, underestimated the seriousness of Ms McGlinchey's personal condition. The accumulation of errors was such, in my opinion, as to constitute in the final analysis a breach of Article 3," he said.

The court awarded damages of 15,900 to Hilary and the children, Andrew who is now 17, and Natalie who is now 12.

The money, says Mrs Davenport, is meaningless. She and the children had already turned down 7,000 the British authorities had offered them earlier to settle the case.

"It wasn't the money. We wanted the truth to come out," said Hilary.