Tragic accident claimed life of mentally ill teenager

A MENTALLY ill teenager died in a tragic accident on Christmas Day after taking painkillers at the home of her guardians.

Coroner Roger Whittaker recorded a verdict of accidental death after hearing that Nicola Louise Lister, 17, took about 11 tablets of the opiate painkiller dihydracodeine, which she had not been prescribed.

Nicola, who was born in Dewsbury, had suffered mental problems from an early age and been passed between children’s homes before she ran away from a home in Rochdale and was found by a Spen couple.

Derek and Jackie Stephenson, who lived in Bywell Road, Dewsbury, for years, discovered her sitting on the wall of their hotel, Headlands House, in Liversedge in the summer of 2004.

Mrs Stephenson told Huddersfield Coroner’s Court on Wednesday: “She was in a state. We thought she was suffering from a psychiatric illness. We took her in overnight and called the police and social services. But she was very unhappy at the home, and so stayed with us for 18 months.”

The couple became her guardians, providing loving care for Nicola, who called them mum and dad, but she continued to harm herself, use drugs and on more than one occasion attempted suicide.

Mrs Stephenson said: “We had the police round so many times. It was very difficult to get any support from anywhere. That was the trouble. But the only time we ever left her was the night she died.”

She and Derek went out on Christmas Eve last year, leaving Nicola just one bottle of wine to drink. They returned to find her slumped on the sofa.

Mrs Stephenson added: “When we got back, at first I thought she was asleep. She was breathing and had a pulse.

“I don’t think she wanted to take her own life. She was so excited about Christmas.”

Paramedics fought to revive her at the hotel and then in hospital, but the coroner said she had probably died at the hotel early on Christmas Day.

Pathologist Patricia Gudgeon said Nicola’s body contained the equivalent alcohol levels of two pints of beer, as well as levels of prescribed drugs consistent with therapeutic use, as well as the dihydracodeine which can give a psychological lift.

Mr Stephenson was prescribed dihydracodeine (for rheumatism), but said none had gone missing from his supply that day.

The coroner said packets of the drug had been discovered at the care home in Rochdale, where Nicola had stayed.

He added: “How she found it is not clear. It may be that she retained Mr Stephenson’s tablets for use.

“I have no doubt she took the pills when they were out.”

Social worker Beverley Paris, who was manager of leaving care with Kirklees social services at the time Nicola was being treated, said following the breakup of her parents, Nicola lived with her grandparents, as well as having two spells with foster parents, with whom she failed to settle.

She was returned to her grandparents, but there was ‘violence at home and threats to self-harm.’

In February 2003 she was placed in a children’s residential unit.

By July 2004 doctors thought she might be suffering from schizophrenia. The diagnosis was later changed to psychosis and personality disorder.

The coroner gave credit to Mr and Mrs Stephenson for taking care of Nicola.

He said the combination of alcohol and opiates caused her to lose the gag reflex, and gastric fluids entered her lungs.

He said he was satisfied Nicola did not mean to take her own life, adding: “Her death was a tragic accident.”