A coroner has warned that people who experiment with a legal party drug that killed promising medical student Hester Stewart are "playing Russian Roulette" with their lives
An inquest has found that Miss Stewart, 21, died approximately an hour after taking the liquid drug GBL for the first time in a friend's bedroom in Brighton.
Her father made an impassioned plea yesterday for young people to reject recreational drugs or risk "finding yourselves in a coroner's court, a criminal court or a coffin".
Earlier this year, The Daily Telegraph disclosed Miss Stewart's death had come after the Home Office failed to ban GBL, which is an industrial solvent, despite announcing that it would be made illegal for personal use last August.
The Brighton and Hove Coroner ruled yesterday that Miss Stewart had died from misadventure in April after the drug combined lethally in her body with alcohol she had consumed during a night out.
Recording the verdict, Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said: "Whenever drugs such as GBL are used recreationally the person using them needs to understand they are playing Russian Roulette. It may be possible for no apparent reason that taking such drugs results in death."
Miss Stewart's friend, Anthony Morrison, bought a bottle of GBL from a website for £23.75 and took the liquid drug with Hester in the bedroom of his shared student house in Brighton.
They fell asleep on a bed together and she died around an hour later, with Mr Morrison waking to find her lifeless body.
Dr Stewart came face to face with Mr Morrison, a criminology student at Brighton University and a keen American Football player, yesterday for the first time since the tragedy.
In dramatic scenes, the father asked repeated questions of him, but was prevented from receiving the answers by the coroner, who said they were not relevant to the inquest.
Mr Morrison was arrested but does not face prosecution over the supply of the GBL, because it is not illegal to use. He is facing separate proceedings after police also allegedly found amphetimines and cannabis in his room.
Outside court, Dr Stewart held aloft a bottle of GBL he had purchased over the internet and said: "Young people do not realise the magnitude of the risks posed by recreational drugs.
"The Home Office is likely to ban GBL by the end of the year but its use is likely to continue.
"Society has the right to question anyone who possesses, trades or profits from the non industrial use of GBL.
"To any such person I say: tip it away now or you will find yourselves in the coroner's court, the criminal court or a coffin".
The court heard that at least four people have died from taking GBL in the past six months. The family of Miss Stewart has campaigned to have the legal drug banned and are disappointed that it will not officially be made illegal until Parliament returns after the summer break.
GBL – gamma-butyrolactone –has been an increasingly popular drug on the party scene for the past five years.
It is converted in the stomach into GHB, the notorious "date-rape" drug which was banned in 2003.
The Government announced plans to ban GBL in August and said at the time that the drug "can lead to dependence, unconsciousness and even death by intoxication". But a delay in the ban becoming law has meant that it is still legal today and freely available on the internet for as little as 50p a dose.
Det Insp Carwyn Hughes said he believed Miss Stewart took the drug willingly but could not be drawn on whether she was fully aware of its effects.
Her older brother, Chesney Stewart, said he was aware of his sister using recreational drugs previously, such as cannabis, and on one occasion, esctasy.
Giving evidence, Mr Morrison told the inquest that Hester, who was studying molecular medicine at the University of Sussex, seemed "fine" after taking the drug.
"We were both coming up on it and started to share experiences - she was playing music and dancing around," he said. "We were both on the bed kissing and that's all I remember."
Mr Morrison admitted to the inquest that he had read on a website prior to taking the legal high that it was not "fit for human consumption".
He said: "I knew we possibly shouldn't take because we had been drinking."
By Richard Edwards
July 23, 2009