Killed... by drug bought for price of a pint
Heartbroken father of girl (18) who died after taking lethal tablet appeals for young people to stay away from drugs
Published 23/07/2014 | 20:04
The sparkling blue eyes and relaxed smile frozen in time by the camera are memories the family of Alice Devlin will always treasure.
A precious photograph, taken four days before her death last summer, captures the teenager's fun-loving personality and zest for life.
She was, say her family, a young woman full of goodness killed by a growing evil in society.
Now, her heartbroken father has appealed for young people to stay away from drugs.
Alice's grieving father Pat said anyone who takes the drug is gambling with their life.
"Just don't do it," he said. "I don't know how to word it strongly enough, I really don't. The coroner's description was a very good turn of phrase. He said it's Russian roulette – and that's exactly what you're doing if you take these drugs."
"Alice was a bubbly, beautiful, loving wee girl," he added. "She had so much to look forward to. She was doing well at college, she had ambitions, and she had the personality to realise those ambitions."
However, those hopes and dreams were snatched away last August when she died after taking drugs at a house party. She was only 18.
Alice had taken a tablet she thought was Ecstasy but which actually contained cathinones and 4,4-dimethylaminorex, a stimulant linked to 20 deaths across Northern Ireland in the last year.
The tablets are also known as speckled cherries.
"As far as I know Alice only had one tablet," her father adds. "She wasn't in the habit of taking drugs regularly, and she'd only started after falling into another girl's company a few months beforehand.
"In fact she had been very anti-drugs before that."
Alice Devlin's death is a stark illustration of the hidden tragedy behind a deadly epidemic gripping Northern Ireland society.
A PSNI officer told yesterday's inquest that dangerous drugs are now cheaper than a night out. In Alice's case, a batch of tablets and two grams of methedrone had been bought for just £50.
"In effect we're talking about [one tablet] being no dearer than the cost of a pint of beer," senior coroner John Leckey remarked.
Mr Devlin has spoken out about his daughter's death in the hope of raising awareness about the dangers of substance abuse. He said no other family should endure the suffering they have experienced over the last year.
A student at South West College in Dungannon, Alice hoped to become a social worker and work with children.
"She was a happy, bubbly girl – just like any other teenager," her father said. "She was into her hair, she would change hair colour regularly. She was blonde, dark – before her death she had gone red."
Her other hobbies included music, fashion and dancing. Occasionally she would accompany her father to biking events.
Looking at a photograph of Alice on his phone, Mr Devlin remarks: "She was a real daddy's girl. She was understanding, affectionate and caring. Always smiling. Just a loving, happy person. That's the only way I can describe her. She was the girl all her friends turned to when they had a problem."
In the year or so before her death, a number of personal circumstances had seen Alice's mood change, and she became depressed.
Last June her parents noticed her mood was changing. They suspected Alice had been taking drugs and, when confronted, she admitted doing so and asked them for help.
Although professional support was sought, Alice continued to occasionally abuse drugs.
The last time Mr Devlin saw his daughter was the night of her death, Friday, August 9. He recalls her being in good form as he left home, shortly after 7pm, to head to Newcastle for a short break with his wife.
Later that night several young friends called at Alice's home. At one stage two of them placed an order for drugs via a simple mobile phone call. They paid £50 for the batch of 10 tablets and methedrone.
Alice took at least one of the tablets.
Soon her friends realised something wasn't right. Eyewitnesses recalled how she appeared hot, flustered and agitated. She went upstairs to take a cold shower and went to bed.
"We could see she was in a bad way," one told the inquest.
Another friend recalled the final, harrowing moments as Alice's life slipped away.
"I noticed a change in her breathing. It seemed slower and shorter," she said. "She then turned grey and seemed to take what I would describe as her last breath."
The PSNI interviewed all those present that night and seized their phones in the hope of finding the person who supplied the drugs which killed Alice.
Police now believe they know who that person was.
A file was passed to the Public Prosecution Service but, because of evidential reasons, they did not proceed with a prosecution
Eyewitness testimony which police believe will tie the supplier to Alice's death is missing.
Mr Devlin also suspects he knows who supplied the drugs. However, approaching the first anniversary of his daughter's death, he has not yet been able to get any form of justice.
The passage of time, he says, has not lessened the pain and suffering of his family and he is desperate to ensure no other family has to suffer the same agony.
"As the coroner said, these things are like Russian roulette," Mr Devlin said. "I can't really think of anything more powerful to say than that.
"I just hope people will stop and think twice about taking these things in the future."