Health: Did Simon Hervey commit suicide or was he killed by prescription drugs

Sunday, January 21 1999

Two one-night stands later - I swear they weren't intentionally one-night stands so far as I was concerned - I was USED!! Anyway, while I'm feeling bitter, here's a list of the things Georgia has so far copied from me!! CREAM rotary phone, PANASONIC walkman, her new love of candles, religious imagery, ROBOCOP (!!) Rocky Horror, Elvis and his tacky ways. Priscilla, CULTURE CLUB!! (I got a photo, signed to no-one, sent to me recently), colours, my favourites green, orange and blue, cosmetics, Cosmetics To Go, silver jewellery. She even wanted some bike boots (I successfully got some in Camden). NO SHAME. That's all I can remember for now. I will eventually write about London and explain the Savoy/Fortnum receipts opposite. So much has happened and psychotherapy is a total mind FUCK!! I'm psychotic!! (and suicidal).

This entry was the last ever in Simon Hervey's diary. He died, sitting up in bed in his small flat in Newcastle, on March 8 last year. He had a book on his lap, and a crisp packet by his side; there were still crisps in his mouth. At the inquest six months later, the coroner recorded an open verdict. "Open in the sense that one simply does not know what happened," he said.

Simon was just 28. For 14 of those 28 years, he was prescribed a cocktail of drugs by a variety of doctors. The first prescription for Valium was because he was unhappy about being bullied at school and because he was concerned about his acne. Between then and his death he was put on uppers, downers, more benzodiazepines (the drug group to which Valium belongs), Prozac, Heminevrin, normally given under hospital conditions to alcoholics, and finally Epilim, an anti-epileptic.

The year summed up: 1992.

"In 1991, September 18, my Grandma C died and I found out by accident on Jan 10, '92 from a phone call to Grandad. Thanks Mum, I never knew her, thanks to you... I've now been sick with depression for four years and it's going to come to a head. Valium is not enough, nor is librium. I've had every antidepressant going and none of them work."

Simon died alone. The evening before, he had rung his father Adrian Hervey, 58, who works at an all-night garage, and asked him to drop by with some chocolate on his way home. Adrian recalls seeing Simon with the book and crisp packet. "I chatted to him for a while and then realised something had happened. I called an ambulance but I knew he was dead," he says.

Simon was flamboyantly gay; he was clever and artistic. In his Newcastle flat, he dreamed of fame and fortune. In his diary, he has left a record of those dreams and of his descent into depression, and into drug-induced confusion; his battle with alcohol and his longing to leave the city. The diaries, from 1990 until that final entry nine years later, are brutal, yet often written with warmth, wit and lucidity. And on virtually every page is a cry for help. I never knew him but I feel that I did; for anyone who has read his diaries, there is an enormous sense of loss.

Adrian Hervey's wife left when Simon was eight, leaving Adrian to bring up his son. Now he is alone - bewildered, grieving and proud. Pictures of Simon cover the walls in his high-rise flat in the centre of Newcastle: Simon as Boy George, made-up eyes and high cheekbones; Simon outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris, looking gleefully wicked in one picture and as innocent as a choir boy in another. Simon was a chameleon and he was deeply, deeply unhappy.

I met Adrian Hervey six months after Simon died, while reporting on the NHS complaints system for Channel 4 News. I was looking at what kind of redress people have when something has gone wrong. In Hervey's case he wanted to know why Simon had been prescribed this cocktail of drugs for so long. And why he had been given repeat prescriptions of drugs such as Valium which is supposed to be prescribed only in the short term, with the patient seen regularly by the doctor.

Adrian was beginning to contemplate the complaints process. Should he demand to see Simon's notes from the hospital and the GP? Should he sue? Like all parents whose children die before they do, he needed some answers because he felt the system had failed his son.

"My son died unnecessarily," Adrian says. "There was a crass lack of care. In any other country in the world he would have been put in hospital and got off those drugs." According to Adrian, Simon had begun to fall over, crash into furniture and black out shortly before he died. The coroner noted the bruising on his body and acknowledged Adrian's evidence that his son had begun to lose his coordination.

Peter Cooper, the pathologist who gave evidence at the inquest, said that there were benzodiazepines, Heminevrin and co-proxomol in his blood as well as of Epilim, all at a therapeutic dosage level. There were no empty pill bottles or packets in his flat to indicate this might have been suicide.

"He was looking for help all the time, desperately," says Adrian. "The effect of the benzodiazepine is to make the person dependent. He screamed to be off them. He tried to get help from doctors but, every time, he would come back with another drug. He lost his self-esteem, his self- confidence."

Simon tried to kill himself three or four times during the 14 years that he was ill. Adrian believes that each incident was a cry for help. "He knew that if he got to hospital he would get hands-on care," he says.

November 2 1993

"I can't think of any more reasons to live, I disgust myself. I mistrust others and make life difficult for my father... I will never have what I want - I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I WANT. I'm thick, my grammar is awful and I'm just plain tired of being ashamed of myself. I'm fat, ugly, spotty and obnoxious. My father can't even think of a decent reply when I tell him I'm dying!!"

November 5 1993

"I know a lot of dead people, and one of them is me. "

November 6 1993

Well, one bottle of Smirnoff and a squillion diazepam later and I'm still here - unfortunately."

November 14 1993

"This week I took all the anti-depressants I had - and lived!! Took my reserve of Valium - and ditto! I don't think alcohol and drugs can kill me. Dad called the doctor. I feel like shit."

March 8 1994

"Invest my sexual energy. IN WHOM? That's what I want to know!! ... My shrink told me this bizarre piece of nonsense this afternoon... I think my craziness is beyond help and that I will inevitably end my own life."

November 19 1995

"I'm so frightened of living, I hide in bed all day... And yet I'm so preoccupied with the thought that it may improve of its own accord, of course, that I haven't the guts to end the farce... My head aches. I feel 100 years old, I'm only twenty frigging five."

There is no diary for 1998. It is as if life had become so unbearable he could not longer stand to record it. But in 1999 he appeared to rally. On the front page of his diary he has stuck a card, saying: "New Year Same Shit." But on the next page is a map of the London Underground, in preparation for a visit to the capital, and pictures of orchids. He made that trip, between January 29 and February 1. There is a picture of the hotel he stayed in and, finally, on the last entry but one, a receipt from the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, for a packet of Malboro Light cigarettes and, from Fortnum and Mason, for one Welsh rarebit and a glass of Guinness. We do not know how the visit went, despite his promise to write about it.

They played Boy George's Church of the Poison Mind at Simon's funeral. He had made a tape in case one of his suicide attempts worked. Is that what finally happened?

Adrian is still trying to find out whether the drugs his son was prescribed could, in combination, have killed him. He has sent part of his research to his local MP, Jim Cousins, and the health secretary, Alan Milburn. A copy has gone to North Tyneside health authority, which has said it will investigate.

• Victoria Macdonald is social affairs correspondent for Channel 4 News.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.