A Trinity postgraduate student found collapsed in a corridor and then moved by a security guard, thinking he was drunk, had taken cyanide, an inquest heard.
Ashley Bray (23), a biochemistry postgrad from Surrey, England, and living at East Wall Road in Dublin 3, died on October 26 last year having been found unresponsive in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI) on Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that Mr Bray, a second year researching the prevention of tooth decay, was drinking with colleagues in Dublin city centre before his death.
He was in "good form" but his mood changed as they finished up at 3am, colleague Jonathan Bailey said. Mr Bray told him that he “wanted to die” and that he was going back to the laboratory to take cyanide. Mr Bailey put his arms around him to stop him running off. They were then trying to persuade him to get a taxi but he ran back toward the college. Asked if he had considered the cyanide comment “talk”, Mr Bailey said he hadn't given "too much weight” to it.
Mr Bray went to the TBSI, where post-grads have 24-hour access, at 3.08am. Security guard Samee Khan said Mr Bray’s hands were shaking when he showed his identification. CCTV footage shows him going into a fifth floor laboratory.
After 3.30am while checking the building, Mr Khan found Mr Bray lying in a corridor asleep. He tried rousing him but he “just moaned”. He moved him to a carpeted corridor where it was warmer. “I could smell alcohol from him. I just thought he needed a rest to sleep off the alcohol,” he said. At around 5.45am, Mr Bray was in the same place and snoring. Mr Khan noted he was cold and his pulse was slow. He finished his patrol and then rang main campus security who put him through to ambulance control. When he went back to him, Mr Bray was unresponsive. He performed CPR until paramedics arrived, telling the coroner there was a “bitter taste” when he was doing mouth-to-mouth.
Mr Bray was taken to St James’s Hospital where attempts to resuscitate him failed.
The court heard that since January 2013, he regularly attended the health centre in Trinity for mental health problems and had been prescribed an anti-depressant. He told GP Dr Niamh Murphy that he had taken chemicals from the lab with the intention of harming himself but assured her that he had gotten rid of them. He subsequently reiterated this to consultant psychiatrist Dr Niamh Farrelly.
Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said the main findings at post-mortem were a “lethal” dose of cyanide and a “high level” of alcohol in his system.
“Cyanide is a highly toxic chemical asphyxiant which interferes with the body’s utilisation of oxygen. It can be rapidly fatal,” he said.
The court heard that potassium cyanide and other chemicals are kept in the lab in unlocked lockers. The bottle retrieved by Gardaí appeared to be sealed. TBSI Professor Martin Caffrey said the chemicals are required for research.
“Everybody is cautioned in regard to their use, their safe handling,” he said, “It is not up to me to lock things away and to require permission for people to access things. That would just make the research impossible”.
Speaking from the body of the court, the deceased’s father Clive Bray said he would not want any “knee-jerk change in laboratory practice which would make working in a laboratory more onerous” as a result of his son’s death.
Dr Farrell said the death was self-inflicted but because there was a high level of alcohol in Mr Bray’s system, he could not say if he was clear in his mind when he died. The legal test for a verdict of suicide was not satisfied, he said, before returning an open verdict.