Wednesday 29 January 2020

Theatre chief 'wracked with guilt' over phone-sex death

Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

A source close to Michael Scott said this week that the theatre director had told him he was "wracked with guilt" over the death of Darach Culhane-Nolan, 33, a young film industry art director who died on March 16 last year after inhaling amyl nitrate, or 'poppers', during phone sex with Mr Scott.

At the Coroner's Court in Dublin last week, Frances Kelly, mother of Mr Culhane-Nolan, asked Mr Scott why he failed to call a doctor when he heard her son choking on the other end of the phone. Mr Scott told the court that he assumed the sounds to be connected with Mr Culhane-Nolan's sexual arousal and saw no cause for concern, although he did call back a short time later and got no answer.

The incident came at a difficult time in Mr Scott's life. Three months previously, in December 2010, he lost his friend and publicity manager at the Tivoli theatre, Myra Geraghty, to illness.

Mr Scott and Mr Culhane-Nolan had begun an affair just 10 days prior to Mr Culhane-Nolan's death. Despite the brief duration, Mr Scott, who is also the cultural editor at Social and Personal magazine, had spoken of being "in love" with the successful young art director, who had just finished work on the Oscar-nominated film Alfred Nobbs.

On the night of his death, Mr Culhane-Nolan had been out drinking in Howth. When he returned home he had spoken on the phone with Mr Scott and inhaled the amyl nitrate -- a sexual stimulant -- inadvertently spilling some of the liquid into his nasal passage. It would be the last conversation Mr Culhane-Nolan would ever have.

The next morning his body was found by his mother, with whom he lived in a house in Sutton, Co Dublin. He had been dead for more than 12 hours.

In a post mortem, Mr Culhane-Nolan was found to have significant amounts of alcohol in his system but no trace of amyl nitrate. The substance is volatile, the court heard, however, and would likely have evaporated.

The official cause of death was cardiac dysrhythmia -- an irregular heartbeat that can lead to cardiac arrest -- which has been linked in some cases to amyl nitrates.

Mr Culhane-Nolan was understood to have brought the poppers back from a trip to London. However, his death has brought a sharp focus on a substance which listed as a drug on the HSE's website but not as controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs act. This discrepancy means that gardai turn a blind eye to the product, openly on sale in Dublin sex shops and gay saunas as a "room odoriser" or "leather cleaner". At time of writing, the HSE spokesperson was unavailable for comment on the issue.

Poppers first became popular in the New York and San Francisco disco and gay scenes in the Sixties and Seventies. Time magazine reported that their use eventually spread to "certain avant garde heterosexuals". President John F Kennedy was described by a former mistress in a recent memoir as having tried the substance.

Despite this brief foray into the mainstream they by-and-large remained a drug of the gay subculture, with risks that belied their benign image and over-the-counter availability. They can be fatal when taken with Viagra, causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Terry Power, proprietor of Condom Power on Dublin's Dame Street, last week confirmed that his shop sold the substance but added that he felt poppers were being made "a scapegoat" for an unfortunate accident.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News