Homeless man died after apparently taking street drug ‘Spice’ and collapsing in Camden Town

Lawley Gibbs, who died after collapsing on the streets of Camden Town, was said to have used the syn

Lawley Gibbs, who died after collapsing on the streets of Camden Town, was said to have used the synthetic cannabis known as "Spice", linked to a number of recent deaths - Credit: Archant

The death of a 39-year-old man who collapsed in Camden High Street after apparently using the street drug known as “Spice” was ultimately caused by his prolonged abuse of alcohol and various drugs, a coroner has ruled.

Lawley Gibbs lived a “chaotic” life blighted by addiction in spite of his upbringing as the son of a minister who helped counsel drug addicts in South Africa, St Pancras Coroners’ Court heard on Monday.

He died in the Royal Free Hospital on February 28 this year, 15 days after his collapse on the street - where he received emergency treatment from passing doctors.

An ambulance was called to the scene outside HSBC bank at around 4pm on February 13, where Mr Gibbs was lying unconscious with an open can of alcohol nearby.

He was given CPR for around 40 minutes to restart his heart as he lay on the street, first by the passing doctors and then by paramedics - but in hospital, a CT scan revealed a brain injury,

His father and sister flew over from South Africa to be with him, but doctors said that nothing could be done and he died after treatment was withdrawn.

Mr Gibbs was well known to mental health services in Camden, and was said to have had a “vague” history of using Spice – a highly addictive street drug linked to a number of recent deaths.

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Dr Jennifer Price, who treated Mr Gibbs at the Royal Free, said that Spice was particularly dangerous because its composition is not known when sold on the streets.

She said: “It’s referred to as a cannabinoid, but its side effects may be much more unpredictable.”

No drug test was taken in A&E, but Dr Price said this would have made no difference to his care because there is no Spice antidote.

Mr Gibbs had lived in Camden for nine years, and had been evicted from nine hostels, primarily due to alcohol-induced aggression.

A month before his death, he was evicted from his Burghley Road accommodation and discharged from Camden and Islington’s (C&I) Assertive Outreach Team after refusing help.

He visited the Greenland Road mental health centre in January to ask for a night shelter, but was turned away and told to see Camden’s housing team instead.

His former care co-ordinator at C&I told the court that Mr Gibbs had tried rehab 13 times, without success.

The court heard that Mr Gibbs had been misdiagnosed with bipolar when his erratic behaviour was caused only by the misuse of drink and drugs.

Mr Gibbs senior said he had counselled many people with drug problems in the past, but could not save his son, in spite of many attempts.

Mr Gibbs senior said: “He was very anti-drugs when he was young, but once he started using them, it turned out that he had a very addictive personality. I tried many times to help him, but I just couldn’t.”

He added that he did not blame mental health or social services for his son’s death.

“They did all they could, and more.

“There was always something different about Lawley, even as a child.”

He said that his son had been pronounced dead when he was just 21 - from his first misuse of drugs - but had then effectively “come back from the dead” when he was found to have a pulse.

He said: “I prayed the same thing would happen this time, I prayed for a miracle again, but it wasn’t to be.”

Coroner Mary Hassell ruled his death was caused by hypoxic brain injury, ultimately caused by drug and alcohol abuse.

A forum is being held tomorrow to discuss what can be done to help the homeless population in Camden after a recent spate of deaths on the streets, many of which are related to the use of so-called “legal highs”, and with a background of mental health issues.