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.”