Father’s appeal after death of Hampstead schoolboy from toxic cocktail mistaken for laughing gas

UCS schoolboy Joseph Benett died after inhaling a 'toxic cocktail' of substances he thought was part

UCS schoolboy Joseph Benett died after inhaling a 'toxic cocktail' of substances he thought was party drug laughing gas - Credit: Archant

The father of a public schoolboy who died after inhaling a cocktail of toxic substances has issued a warning to other young men not to take unknown party drugs.

Joseph Benett (right) with his sister Camille. Picture: Richard Weaver

Joseph Benett (right) with his sister Camille. Picture: Richard Weaver - Credit: Richard Weaver Photography

Photographer David Benett said his son Joseph, 17, paid with his life “for what was basically hijinks” after inhaling chemicals he believed to be laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, in an aerosol can labelled “Smelly Balloon”.

Jospeh Benett and his friends inhaled from a 'Smelly Balloon' aerosol canister bought in Israel

Jospeh Benett and his friends inhaled from a 'Smelly Balloon' aerosol canister bought in Israel - Credit: Archant

At an inquest at Hertfordshire Coroner’s Court last Wednesday, it was revealed that the aerosol instead contained a mixture of dangerous gases including butane, which is used as lighter fuel, and pentane, which is used to make polystyrene

Speaking to the Ham&High yesterday, Mr Benett said the death of his son, who was a pupil at University College School in Frognal, Hampstead, should send a message to others who might be tempted to dabble with unknown substances.

The father, of West Heath Drive, Golders Green, said: “It was not nitrous oxide at all – it was a whole lot of crap in an aerosol.


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“The minute the police said it was an aerosol, I thought ‘hang on a minute, this doesn’t sound like nitrous oxide’.

“Sadly the boys thought that’s what they were taking.

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“It’s just a warning to all young men not to go and inhale and abuse things when they don’t know what’s in them.”

Joseph thought he was taking nitrous oxide – commonly known as laughing gas and usually sold in small silver canisters that require a whipped cream dispenser to open – at his friend Harry Ingram’s house in Hertfordshire on the night of August 31 last year.

The inquest was told that none of the boys could read the labelling on the canister as most of the writing was in Hebrew.

“It’s a warning to all those young guys who think they’re invincible,” added Mr Benett.

“Don’t abuse anything if you don’t know what it is – that’s the warning. Sadly for us, Joe did and he paid the price.

“The coroner said it could have been any one of them.

“Everyone loved him and he had his life ahead of him, but for a silly thing one Friday evening, that’s it, gone. It causes so much sadness. He was a great kid.”

School friend Harry, 18, told the inquest that the aerosol – which was sold with two balloons – was bought in a newsagent while he was on holiday in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“I told everyone this was laughing gas, because I believed it was laughing gas,” he said.

Two of the boys tried inhaling the gas and felt light-headed, but when Joseph did so, his eyes rolled back and his heart stopped beating. He went into a coma and died less than a month later on September 27.

Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas, who returned a verdict of accidental death, said the friends were playing “Russian roulette” – and pointed out that even nitrous oxide can be lethal.

He added: “It is extremely dangerous to take anything if you are not sure of the contents.

“Inhaling this stuff is not always fatal, but it can be. And if you’re okay the first time, it doesn’t mean you’ll be okay the second time. I cannot begin to understand how awful this has been for Joe’s family.”

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