Waving and saluting to the crowds who had flocked to see him, the pop star Pete Doherty could scarcely conceal his delight as he emerged from a courtroom with his liberty intact, despite admitting possession of heroin and other class A drugs.
But as he was chauffeured away, with fans in hot pursuit, a story of heroin abuse with an altogether different ending was playing out in another courtroom, eight miles across London. Westminster Coroners' Court heard that Andreas Embiricos had much in common with Doherty: he was a gregarious and phenomenally talented pianist and, as the son of a retired shipping magnate, supremely wealthy. Two months after starting a degree course he, too, became addicted to heroin. He overdosed and was dead at the age of 20.
The coroner presiding over Mr Embiricos' inquest recorded a verdict of death by drug overdose. Doherty, who faced a possible six-month jail term after admitting six offences of possessing Class A drugs, was given a drug rehabilitation order.
The cases were heard amid a growing sense of alarm about the availability and effects of heroin on the streets of Britain. Twelve days ago, it emerged that an 11-year-old girl from Glasgow was to undergo counselling for an addiction. More than 90 per cent of the heroin supply on Britain's streets is arriving from Afghanistan, typically via Turkey.
If further evidence were needed of the traffickers' might, it arrived at Dunkirk, on the French coast, yesterday where police seized a haul of heroin with a street value of €12m (£8.2m), hidden in a lorry on its way from Turkey to the UK. Customs officials said the 305kg of drugs was the biggest haul seized in France since 1972.
The inquest into Mr Embiricos' death provided a graphic illustration of the consequences of the supply. Everyone knew the Greek-born student was bright. Up to the age of 18 he had attended London's prestigious Westminster School, where his music teacher, Richard Harris, found him to be one of the best of the many pupils he has taught there, since 1992. "He was a very, very musical child with a more phenomenal memory than most children I have met," said Mr Harris. "He could not read notes but he had this Mozartian ability to play them back. He learned some very difficult pieces."
His polo-playing, Eaton-educated father, Anthony, is a friend of the Prince of Wales, although his mother, Violanda Goulandris, died suddenly in the early 1990s after suffering a brain aneurysm.
Those who knew Mr Embiricos best believed him to be more contented than he had been in years in the months leading up to his death. After completing a one-semester foundation course, he had embarked on an international business degree with a language at London's European Business School in September last year. He had also enrolled on a 10-week drama course. This had kindled a "different curiosity and interest", according to his father who, in a letter to the business school after his son's death, wrote: "I think he, for the first time, found [an] interest."
But then the consequences of his heroin addiction began to set in. It had started long before he was out of his teens, resulting in clandestine visits to The Priory clinic, and Mr Embiricos' friend and fellow student, Tijana Djordjevic, told the inquest that he had made no secret of his desperate need to buy the drug. "When I saw Andreas he said he wanted to get some heroin to relieve the pain he was in," she said.
He went to south London to buy what would become his last fix of heroin before returning to the family home in Knightsbridge. He snorted one line in the lavatory, another in front of Ms Djordjevic and then retired to bed, where he was found dead by his father. He was certified dead at 11.15am on 29 November 2005. He had a lethal level of 0.28ml of morphine per litre of blood.
Nigel Bowen, the European Business School's undergraduate course leader, said Mr Embiricos' drama course would have taken him to London's Cobden Club to perform before Christmas but, in the event, he had never lived to fulfil that ambition. "It's all inconceivably sad," Mr Bowen said.
For Mr Doherty there was a rather different ending. Sean Curran, his solicitor, conceded that if the musician failed to go clean the court would have "no other option" but to jail him.
After the hearing, Mr Doherty ran up steps from the cells at the back of the courthouse to greet about 50 cheering supporters. He gave them a clenched-fist salute before he was pushed into a black Land Rover, which roared off.Reuse content