In desperation, he had torn at his soiled nappy . . . the baby died of dehydration

Ian Mackinnon reports from the inquest on Michael Walker, who lay dying for days after a drug overdose killed his parents

Mikey's tiny footprints were still clearly visible on the kitchen floor when they finally broke open the door of 26 Kinmel Street. But the 18-month-oldtoddler, like his parents, was dead.

No one can be certain for how many days Mikey had run around the first- floor flat. In desperation he had tried to tear away his heavily soiled nappy. An empty baby's bottle was discovered near by, but he died of dehydration several days after a drugs overdose killed both his parents on 20 December.

Toys were strewn around the living room, next to discarded syringes filled with heroin. A television was on in the corner and an electric fire burned low, as it had done for more than a month.

There in the middle of the room, only yards from Rhyl's busy High Street, lay the heavily tattooed and badly decomposed bodies of Tony Walker, 28, and his wife Elizabeth, 23, slumped on the carpet. He was in a kneeling position, his arms folded beneath him in a "pose of devout prayer", she, semi-naked, also kneeling with her head lying on his.

In the last, heart-breaking days of the baby's life, colleagues of Mr Walker at Rhyl's postal sorting office called on the flat on three occasions, twice on the day after they are believed to have died. They got no response and were unable to peer inside because of its communal entrance.

A neighbour who lived above, David Edgington, passed their door every day for more than a month. He heard not a sound from the flat and watched their mail pile up. Neighbours put the smell down to gas canisters or a dead rat. Mr Edgington, like others, had been told by the couple that they intended to spend Christmas at Mr Walker's parents in Wellingborough, North-amptonshire, and thought nothing of it. It was Mr Edgington who was first to see the bodies. "It was bad, awful," he says. "A terrible thing for anyone to see." Only the growing suspicion of Mrs Walker's parents finally led Michael Garton, the agent for the landlord, to break into the flat on the afternoon of 25 January and make the gruesome discovery of the couple and their son.

Mr Garton had known the family for about a year, but never suspected that the couple were involved in the small Welsh seaside town's notorious West End drugs scene. In fact, the Walkers had been registered heroin users for a number of years.

Tony Walker had been using speed since he was 16 and was mixed up with drugs when the couple met while Elizabeth was studying computer science at Coventry Tech. To the surprise of his family he announced a day before the ceremony that the couple were to be married on 1 September 1990.

Initially they lived in the Midlands, but eventually moved to North Wales where Mrs Walker gave birth to Michael in June 1993. By now the couple had distinctive matching tattoos of Welsh dragons and tigers, which covered much of Mr Walker's body.

But despite the image, they loved and cared for Michael, with the support of her parents in nearby Mostyn. None of the agencies treating the couple for their drug habit saw any need to place the baby on an "at risk" register.

The family lived in a series of flats in an area of shifting population. Like hundreds of others, the Walkers were easily accommodated in the many former guest houses which have been divided up into apartments and bedsits, privately owned and with rents paid by welfare agencies. Here, truly, was a land with individuals but no society.

The Walkers lived next door to another young couple with a child of the same age as Michael. But they never knew each other.

"It is not an area where community spirit would thrive," said Detective Sergeant Philip Welsh. As if reading from an autocue of cliches, neighbours say the Walkers "kept themselves to themselves".

The Walkers had few friends but seemed settled enough in Kinmel Street. Mr Walker had worked at a fairground to support the family and latterly as a part-time postman. His wife stayed at home to look after Michael.

As Christmas approached last year they seemed to Mrs Walker's parents relaxed and happy.

On 20 December, they went shopping around Rhyl together, dropping in to the Swan pub for a Christmas drink. They left at about 1.30pm and were never seen alive again.

A Home Office pathologist, Dr Donald Waite, who was called to the scene by officers, yesterday told an inquest at Prestatyn of the harrowing scene of the couple lying "impacted" together on the living room floor, which was still adorned with Christmas decorations.

The couple had died, he said, from cardio-respiratory failure brought on by morphine poisoning which had almost certainly been injected as heroin. The East Clwyd coroner, David Jones, recorded verdicts of misadventure, while Michael had died from natural causes, through dehydration. He added: "I think everyone involved has been touched in quite a dramatic way by what was discovered."

Dennis Steventon, Mrs Walker's father and a former draftsman, expressed his horror in a statement read at the hearing. "We are extremely distressed, not only about the tragic deaths, but about the connection with drugs. We are a retired professional couple. We had no idea about drugs or what would be the tell-tale signs. This has destroyed our lives."

Detective Sergeant Welsh said: "For the people who take or abuse drugs this highlights the dangers." His sentiments were echoed by a tearful Stephen Tysoe, the dead baby's uncle. "The message from this is, don't take drugs. Just think what it does to you. Just think about that 18-month- old baby."

For the people of Rhyl there remains a feeling of a collective guilt that such a tragedy could occur without anyone noticing. After the bodies were found, residents left flowers outside the bleak boarding house. The mound of flowers grew, surrounded by children's furry toys sodden by the rain. Notes attached to the tributes reflect sadness and confusion among the long-term residents of the fading sea-side resort.

nA heroin addict who killed a baby girl by feeding her methadone to stop her crying during teething was yesterday jailed for two and a half years. Andrew Chapman, 27, and the baby's mother, Rachael Page, 23, gave 11-month- old Sarah so much of the heroin substitute over a two-day period last May that it was "enough to kill a hardened addict", the Old Bailey was told. Both were convicted of manslaughter and admitted neglect of Page's three-year-old son after a scalding incident. Page was jailed for three months. Judge Gerald Gordon said they had not intended to harm either child.

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