Missing Sunderland man died in Blackpool after falling in with drug-taking crowd

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A ‘fit and healthy’ Sunderland dad died of a drugs overdose after fleeing to Blackpool and falling in with the wrong crowd.

 

Gavin Sanderson

Gavin Sanderson

Gavin Sanderson, 40, of Scruton Avenue, Sunderland, was reported missing by his partner on May 27.

Five days later his body was found in the living room of a ground floor flat on Livingstone Road, Blackpool.

Fatally high levels of heroin and cocaine were found in his system.

An inquest at Blackpool town hall on Wednesday heard how Mr Sanderson had disappeared from his home after he ‘reached breaking point’, falling into financial troubles during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His partner Lindsay Kellett said: “He was really stressed. He had bills he had to pay. He had been in three different jobs during Covid… he worked in healthcare, he worked seven days a week and never got a break, he was exhausted. He would’ve just gone away to clear his head – but he was coming back.”

Following his disappearance, Mr Sanderson was spotted in his home town of Carlisle, where he withdrew £750 from his bank account.

From there, he took a train to Blackpool, where he met a woman who invited him back to the flat she shared with her boyfriend.

The court heard that the couple were both drug-users. The woman said that Mr Sanderson had told her that he was also a drug user, and that they had gone to purchase a bottle of rum together.

He spent the evening of May 31 in the woman’s flat, and watched a film with her, her boyfriend, and another man who left afterwards.

Between 12.30am and 1am on June 1, the woman and her boyfriend left the flat to buy more alcohol, leaving Mr Sanderson dozing on the sofa. They returned at 2.35am to find the sofa had been pushed in front of the door to the property, and when they entered they found Mr Sanderson unresponsive on the floor.

They called 999, and Mr Sanderson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police attended and found evidence of drug use scattered around the lounge, including uncapped needles, a burnt spoon with used residue, burnt tin foil, and a crack pipe. A small plastic package of powder was also found in Mr Sanderson’s sock.

The woman gave contradictory statements to police about Mr Sanderson, calling him ‘a raging crackhead’, but later saying ‘he didn’t look like a drug-user’.

Both she and her boyfriend were arrested on suspicion of supplying class A drugs following Mr Sanderson’s death, however they were later released without charge.

They were not called to give evidence as coroner Alan Wilson said: “I do not believe that I would be able to place any significant trust in the evidence I would receive from the other people in the flat.”

DI Kathryn Riley said: “I think it’s fair to say that both witnesses are drug users and lead chaotic lives.”

The court also heard that there were rumours whirling among Mr Sanderson’s family that the ‘fit and healthy’ dad had been forcibly injected with the heroin which killed him. But there was no evidence to support this.

No injuries were found on Mr Sanderson’s body to indicate an assault had taken place, and no alcohol was found in his system. A mark on his face which Miss Kellett thought was a bruise was in fact hypostasis – discolouration caused by pooling of blood inside the body after death.

DI Kathryn Riley said: “I conducted a visual examination of Mr Sanderon and I didn’t see any marks or anything to suggest he had been forcibly injected.

“There was no evidence to suggest that the drugs ended up in Mr Sanderson’s body in any way other than voluntarily.”

Miss Kellett said: “(Gavin) was healthy. He went to the gym, he ran marathons, he did the Great North Run. Gavin never took drugs and he didn’t drink for a long time while he was with me. It would have been ten and a half, 11 years, and he never took drugs when he was with me.”

The court heard that no evidence was found to indicate Mr Sanderson had intentionally ended his life. One witness, who saw him in Blackpool, said he had mentioned returning home to his children.

Handing down a conclusion of death by accidental drug overdose, Mr Wilson said: “We are dealing here with a particularly sad set of circumstances. This man, with a young family, has recently raised concerns about his mental health, and I’m told that he had recently left home… it’s almost as if he got to a breaking point and he had to leave home. It seems his plans were to return home after a few days. It doesn’t appear to me that he had the intention to permanently stay away from home.

“He’s taken a train… he’s come to Blackpool and made acquaintances at a time when he was vulnerable, and has ended up in an environment where he has been exposed to drug use, and he has taken drugs. He has succumbed to the temptation of using drugs and that has proved to be fatal for him.”

 

 

Son could have been killed by tree, says Thornton mum

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A mum in Thornton says one of her children and two pals could have been killed after a huge tree fell down at the entrance to a community green space just yards from  where they were standing.

 

Emma Young, 30, of Usk Avenue near Stanah, says her seven year old son and his friends, aged eight and 11, were only able to get out of the way because they heard a noise and saw it toppling.

The incident follows calls by residents for the green space, which has a public footpath and is often used by people on the housing estate, to be more regularly maintained and for the overgrown hedges to be cut back.

Emma, a mum-of-two who works as a postwoman, said: “It was frightening because if that thing had struck them on the head they wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Residents at Harlech Grove are unhappy about the lack of maintenance of the green space around their homes

Residents at Harlech Grove are unhappy about the lack of maintenance of the green space around their homes

“I wrote to Wyre Council and Lancashire Council to raise concerns about this last August because I could see that the trees were unstable.”

Other residents are unhappy too, including Chris Hallam of Harlech Grove, who said: “These huge hedges are now too top heavy for the base and could easily crash onto my house. I even withheld my council tax in protest, it’s not acceptable.”

The green space was originally owned by developer David McNeil Homes but in 2008 the company, which has since folded, made negotiations for the land to be adopted by The Greenbelt Company, which takes over and maintains undevelopable land on behalf of developers. The land has since been sold to another party, understood to be a Fylde coast resident and businessman.

A Wyre spokesman said: “The land does not belong to the council but we are looking into these concerns.”

 

 

Plans for 44 new homes off Broadway in Fleetwood refused

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Proposals to build 44 homes on land that forms part of a school playing in Fleetwood have been thrown out by Wyre planners.

 

Plans for new houses on this site in Fleetwood have been refused by Wyre planners

Plans for new houses on this site in Fleetwood have been refused by Wyre planners

Applicants Adactus Housing Association intended to build the homes on an open grassed field off Broadway, with the understanding that adjoining land would still be used as school playing fields by St Wulstan’s And St Edmund’s RC Primary School.

But Wyre’s planning committee, meeting on Wednesday (October 6) unanimously rejected the application for a raft of reasons.

Councillors expressed concern that although the land was allocated for housing, the minimum recommended number of homes was 25, almost half of those proposed, meaning the new homes would be relatively cramped on the site in question.

No provision had been made for green infrastructure on the actual site, such as a children’s play-area, with the applicant attempting to rectify this by making funding provision for new equipment or sports development in the Memorial Park – almost half a mile away from the proposed homes.

There were also concerns that proposals to raise the land further would lead to drainage problems for nearby homes.

A number of speakers addressed the planning meeting, including a representative of the applicant, and residents raising concerns about the plans.

The application had been recommended for approval by the panning officer.

After the meeting, Coun Paul Moon, planning committee chairman, said: “Large planning applications have many facets and this one brought with it a number of concerns.

“The main reason for refusal was the lack of onsite green infrastructure, with no provision for a children’s play area.

“The developer had suggested making contributions to the Memorial Park, but the committee felt that was some distance away and young children shouldn’t be expected to travel to enjoy such amenities.

“There were also concerns about the number of homes and the potential risk of flooding.”

Coun Cheryl Raynor, who represents Fleetwood’s Rossall ward for Labour, said: “I would love to have voted for this application, we need social housing.

“But there were too many factors against it.

“Those houses would have been too cramped on that site and if there were families, there would be nowhere near for them to play.

“The developers also wanted to raise the land by one metre, which would raise genuine concerns about the water running off.

“We see this time and again – developers have good intentions to introduce a draining system but too often they just don’t work – and by then the development is already built.”

The plans included a new access road off Broadway and consisted of 26 two-bedroom houses, 14 three-bedroom houses and four houses with four bedrooms, with a row of the new homes fronting towards Broadway.

Although there were no objections from statutory bodies such as Lancashire Council Council highways, there were 29 letters of objections from local residents raising a range of concerns, including overlooking and flooding worries.

 

 

Blackpool’s Showtown museum costs come under fire

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A deal which will see the council pay £250,000 a year to lease space for  Blackpool’s Showtown Museum has been branded ‘astronomical’.

 

Coun Gerard Walsh said the agreement over 30 years, would see the council pay out at least £7.5m over that time to use the first floor of the Sands Hotel on Central Promenade.

The deal also includes rent rises every five years which will see the annual cost increase to nearly £290,000 after 25 years.

Constructing and fitting out the museum is also costing £13m.

Artist's impression of the Showtown museum

Artist’s impression of the Showtown museum

Coun Walsh told a meeting of the council’s tourism, economy and communities scrutiny committee it would have been better value for the council to buy its own building to house the museum in.

He said: “It is a missed opportunity – what could we have purchased for £ 7.5m, and the build is on top of that.”

Coun Walsh said had the council bought its own building, this would then have become an asset.

He added: “Is there any scope to renegotiate that figure, do we think it is market relevant now?

“It is astronomical. The starting point is £250,000 before we even open the front door.”

But council leader Coun Lynn Williams, who is also cabinet member for tourism, said the museum would be “a great addition” to the town and no other suitable sites had been found for it.

The meeting also heard the five yearly rent increases had been agreed to reflect inflation.

Initially it had been proposed to use space inside the Winter Gardens for the museum, but that £26m plan was axed in 2017 due to a funding shortfall.

Funding for the current scheme includes £4.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £1.75m from the Coastal Communities Fund, £4m from the Northern Cultural Fund, £1.5m from the Lancashire Economic Partnership Growth Deal and £1m from Blackpool Council.

A council report setting out the lease agreement says: “Showtown has a robust and viable business plan.

“The cost of the rent has been taken into consideration in the development of the business model.”

The museum, which will tell the story of Blackpool and the seaside town’s role in the British entertainment scene, was due to open in 2022 but delays and the coronavirus pandemic mean it will not now open until April 2023.

 

 

More non-swimmers in Blackpool after pools were forced to shut

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The closure of swimming pools due to the Covid pandemic has led to an increase in the number of children in Blackpool who cannot swim.

 

The council’s leisure services department has seen a 24 per cent increase in non-swimmers, according to a report to councillors.

But since pools reopened in March, efforts have been increased to get youngsters swimming again, the council’s annual leisure services report added.

Figures show the number of non-swimmers increased by 24 per cent from 60 per cent in 2019 to 84 per cent in 2021 “demonstrating that the impact of Covid on swimming abilities in children is expected to be significant.”

Moor Park Health and Leisure Centre

Moor Park Health and Leisure Centre

But the report, which was presented to members of the tourism, economy and communities scrutiny committee, adds: “Active Blackpool are keen to improve the swimming ability of Blackpool residents and are working with schools, children’s centres, and Better Start to raise awareness of the importance of learning to swim and developing this life skill from an early age.

“Some schools have acknowledged this by increasing their pool time and establishing after school clubs.”

Blackpool was the first local authority in England to get pupils back into the pool after restrictions were lifted in March.

Although Palatine Leisure Centre was closed for longer to enable investment in the facilities, schools in the south of the town took youngsters to swimming classes at Moor Park Health and Leisure Centre in Bispham.

Currently around 30 schools take part in sessions organised by the council’s Active Blackpool School Swimming Service.

The report adds: “The impact of the pandemic is evident on the children who are attending school swimming for the first time.

“Whilst some schools have continued to bring the same children as pre-Covid, other schools have bought new year groups.

“Leisure Services have seen a significant increase in non-swimmers with the number of non-swimmers increasing by 24 per cent from 60 per cent in 2019 to 84 per cent in 2021, demonstrating that the impact of Covid on swimming abilities in children is expected to be significant.”

 

 

 

Dim view of Blackpool street lighting

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Blackpool may be famous for its Illuminations display – but lighting in some of its side streets has come under fire for being too dim.

£5m investment in street lighting

£5m investment in street lighting

Now calls have been made for brighter street lighting as part of a £5m upgrade of the system.

Coun Gary Coleman told a meeting of the tourism, economy and communities scrutiny committee: “One of the main comments I hear is how dim the street lighting is in Blackpool.

“With the cost savings that are coming in with this system, can we turn the lights up? Better lit streets will lead to less crime.”

Coun Gerard Walsh added: “I believe the lights on bus routes are at a high level, but on the side streets they are turned down.”

But Coun Paula Burdess warned against turning street lights up too much in residential areas when people are trying to sleep.

She said: “We do need to be mindful of crime, but at the same time there are domestic properties where people do want to sleep at night, and get night after day so that it’s not always continually light.

“So I do think there is a balance we need to strike and I hope we are able to do that with this new lighting.”

Coun Neal Brookes, cabinet member for highways and transport, said the new system would give the council more control over the brightness of the street lighting.

The council will borrow £4.8m for the scheme, which will be met from savings which are expected to be £688,000 a year.

This will enable the current sodium lights to be switched to LEDs in street lights, illuminated traffic signals and bollards, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.

The transition, which will begin in 2022/23 and take around two years to complete, will create energy savings in one year “equivalent to turning the Illuminations off for 34 years”, according to a council report.

It will also help the council in its drive to become carbon neutral by 2030 by reducing carbon emissions by eight per cent.

The council could see savings of more than £6m over the 20-year lifespan of the LEDs.

 

 

Classic adaptations to open Lytham Hall plays season

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Classic adaptations to open Lytham Hall plays season

 

After record audiences this year, organiser Julian Wilde has been eager to give theatre fans an early taste of what to expect in 2022 and feels the programme offers “balance and diversity”.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men will open the season with Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It on Friday, June 17 following their sell-out performance of Macbeth on their first visit to the Hall this year.

Making their debut at the Hall on Friday, July 15 will be Heartbreak Productions with an adaptation of Jane Eyre.

A packed audience at a Lytham Hall performance this year

A packed audience at a Lytham Hall performance this year

Illyria, long a popular company at the venue, will then present family show Peter Pan on Friday, August 12 and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to days later followed by Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance on Sunday, August 21.

Huge demand for Lytham Hall outdoor theatre tickets

“We are still working on the details, but I have had many requests to make an early announcement of the titles and dates and I think that playgoers will be pleased with this variety.

“We always have a warm response from our audiences to adaptations of classic novels and the first two plays for the 2022 season will be the first time we have had a production of Jane Eyre.

“Heartbreak Productions, summer touring specialist sine 1991, are an experienced and accomplished company and I think we are in for a treat.

“The Lord Chamberlain’s Men received a standing ovation for Macbeth this summer and I am expecting a capacity audience for As You Like It which is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies.”

Proceeds from the plays go to the Lytham Hall Restoration Appeal.

Details of this year’s donation to the appeal fund from the record audiences which attended this year after just one play was possible in 2020, are expected to be announced later this month.

It is thanks to our loyal readers that we can continue to provide the trusted news, analysis and insight that matters to you. For unlimited access to our unrivalled local reporting, you can take out a subscription here and help support the work of our dedicated team of reporters.

 

 

 

How Blackpool’s tourism industry is bouncing back after lockdown

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What a  difference a year makes – 12 months ago Blackpool was on the brink of entering tier 3 Covid restrictions with its hospitality industry shut down on the eve of the busy half-term holiday.

 

But the resort has bounced back this summer as visitors have returned to the resort in numbers reminiscent of its glory days.

Council figures show footfall on the seafront and Promenade was more than 60 per cent ahead of pre-pandemic levels in July and August this year.

Mobile phone data shows nearly 11 million people visited the Prom during those months, compared to 6.6 million in 2019.

Busy Blackpool beach

Busy Blackpool beach

Although there are no official figures again this year for visitor numbers, hoteliers group StayBlackpool is also reporting strong performance among its members.

Blackpool Council’s head of tourism Philip Welsh told a meeting of the tourism, economy and communities scrutiny committee: “Feedback is that it has been a really strong recovery through the summer months.

“Some of the numbers on the Promenade are more reminiscent of 20 years ago and there are strong signs that is continuing into September, despite a blip due to the fuel crisis.”

Footfall has also increased in the town centre during July and August – up 26 per cent from 5.5 million in 2019 (pre-pandemic) to nearly 7 million this summer.

The Promenade has attracted millions of visitors

The Promenade has attracted millions of visitors

It is up 48 per cent compared to last year’s figure of 4.6 million.

A report to the committee said: “Whilst we have no formal research on visitor numbers due to our traditional household research being suspended during pandemic restrictions, key indicators such as car parking, inbound rail, and mobile phone monitoring data indicate that Blackpool’s tourism industry

has enjoyed a remarkably strong recovery to date.

“Businesses across most tourism and hospitality sectors in the resort are reporting exceptional results compared to 2019 (the last full year of tourism activity pre-pandemic) and strong bookings over the remainder of this year.

“The reinstatement of large-scale events such as World Fireworks has attracted very large numbers of people to the Promenade, generating footfall on a scale that we have not seen for many years.”

The Illuminations have been extended until January 3 in order to extend Blackpool’s tourism season even further, while investment has been made in a stronger Christmas offer than usual.

This includes an indoor festive market at the Winter Gardens and a Christmas By The Sea village on the Tower Festival Headland, with a synthetic skating rink, magic forest, snowfalls, and themed light projection shows.

The entertainment offer has also been ramped up with the Friends Festive exhibition celebrating the TV show at the Winter Gardens from November 5 to 19, along with traditional shows and pantomimes.

Mr Welsh said: “We hope to have really good things happening in the last three months of the year and build foundations for next year.

“Next year we will have the challenge of the return of European travel. We don’t want to see this year as a one-season wonder, we want to build on this year.”

Mr Welsh added feedback from representatives of the holiday accommodation sector on the town’s Covid Recovery Group had been positive.

He said: “A lot of those businesses have taken the leap of faith with us and are staying open until the end of the year, and forward bookings for next year appear to be very good.

“When people have been coming here, they have been going out and spending money in shops, bars and restaurants.”

Mr Welsh said it was hoped next year would see another strong tourism performance as many of the events and conferences cancelled this year will be back in place.

This includes Blackpool’s annual Air Show which will return next year over the weekend of August 13 and 14 after being cancelled for the past two years due to Covid, and which attracts up to 100, 000 visitors.

The World Fireworks Championships has been moved from Friday night to Saturday night this year to encourage people to arrive in town earlier and boost trade for businesses across the resort.

Other indicators which reflect Blackpool’s recovery include use of car parks which for June and July was up by more than 14,000 compared to 2019, although there was a small dip in August due to events such as the air show being cancelled.

Inbound rail travel was down slightly, by 3.4 per cent between April and August compared to 2019, but saw a jump of 40 per cent in June.

Ian White, a director of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said members had reported “extremely positive” performance since lockdown ended.

He said: “Feedback from StayBlackpool members is extremely impressive and we are aware that some members are having to slow down a touch to avoid breaking through the VAT threshold.

“Early concerns about last minute cancellations where people had double booked a foreign holiday and a Blackpool holiday never happened as the traffic light system worked to support the staycation.

“StayBlackpool is looking forward to 2022 as the town welcomes back a full schedule of events.

“Not forgetting our big reveal of an online booking platform allowing the real time search and booking facilities to match the big online travel agents, though our offer will give members commission free or ultra low charge bookings.

“2022 will also be extremely positive as the town sees more work starting and progressing on the many projects around the town.

“There will be concerns that as foreign travel opens up again in 2022, demand may suffer.

“However we have confidence that StayBlackpool is doing all the right things at the right time for our members and the visitors staying with these trusted accommodation providers.”

 

 

 

Mum dies suddenly on night out after family trip to Blackpool

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Jessica Gibson was on a family holiday but had gone out to meet friends when she collapsed in a flat

 

Jessica Gibson, 31, from Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland, who died on a night out in Liverpool during a family holiday
Jessica Gibson, 31, from Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland, who died on a night out in Liverpool during a family holiday (Image: Gibson family)

A young mum, described as “confident and compassionate”, has left her family devastated after she died suddenly while on a night out during a family holiday.

Jessica Gibson, 31, was visiting Blackpool with her parents, Andy and Jennifer Gibson, when she passed away on July 9.

They had travelled to the seaside town from their home in Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland when plans to go on holiday to Lanzarote were scuppered by Covid.

That night, while her parents stayed in Blackpool, Jessica had gone to meet friends in Liverpool, intending to fly home the next day.

However she was rushed to the Royal Liverpool Hospital after she collapsed at a flat in the city.

Tragically, she died in the early hours of July 9 from what was found to be an accidental heroin and cocaine overdose.

Her parents told the Liverpool Echo that there was never any hint that Jessica had taken a drug like heroin. A court heard there was no evidence she was “drug dependent”.

Jennifer, who had travelled back to Liverpool for the inquest, says she had no idea how her daughter – a mum-of-one – would have got hold of heroin.

She told the ECHO: “She did like to have a drink I can’t lie about that, but I could not believe heroin. Nobody seems to know where she got it.

“We have asked the police about who gave it to her but they don’t know.”

Remembering their daughter, Mrs Gibson said: “She was beautiful, she was stunning, she really was.

“She was generous, generous to a fault even. I’ll give an example. We were watching the football in Blackpool, England vs Ukraine in the Euros, and she saw a poor wee homeless man sitting on the floor.

“She sat down with him and said ‘you don’t need to be sitting here, get yourself home’, and she gave him £20.”

Mr Gibson said: “She was really outgoing, she was funny and she was very confident and compassionate.”

The inquest heard a post-mortem exam was carried out which found no signs of injury.

Jessica Gibson, 31, from Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland, who died on a night out in Liverpool, pictured with her father Andy Gibson
Jessica Gibson, 31, from Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland, who died on a night out in Liverpool, pictured with her father Andy Gibson (Image: Gibson family)

Toxicology reports found Jessica had alcohol and a high level of heroin in her bloodstream. Senior coroner for Liverpool and Wirral, Andre Rebello, said those levels would have been near fatal for a tolerant user.

She also had a high level of cocaine in her system which could have played a role in her death.

The medical cause of death was given as heroin and cocaine toxicity.

Mr Rebello said: “I understand Jessica had taken some drugs in the past but this was normally cocaine, not heroin.

“She was not a tolerant user, therefore if this level would have been fatal or near fatal for a tolerant user this level would suffice to explain Jessica’s death.”

The court was also told that there was no evidence of injury or anything to suggest “drugs had been forced on her”.

But he did slam the dealers who had profited from selling the heroin, ultimately leading to Jessica’s death.

He told the inquest: “There are some people out there who peddle these drugs that are causing death to those people who are vulnerable and turn to them for release.

“Those people actually profit from your grief and bereavement and you are also victims of their illicit and evil trade.”

Mr Rebello recorded a conclusion of “death by cocaine and heroin toxicity – none dependent use of drugs.”