Tragic tale of the beggar, her father and his doomed gamble to save her from heroin

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The Independent Online

There was a silence on Northumberland Street in Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday. The music of the tin whistle played by the girl with the tight dreadlocks was gone. So was the girl, Dawn Jones, who had played her music there for four years, a dog curled at her feet.

There was a silence on Northumberland Street in Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday. The music of the tin whistle played by the girl with the tight dreadlocks was gone. So was the girl, Dawn Jones, who had played her music there for four years, a dog curled at her feet.

She made money because she played well. Her father, a singer, played many of Newcastle's clubs in the Sixties and Seventies. Her 27-year-old sister is preparing for the West End of London, a backing vocalist and actor in a four-handed show that was an Edinburgh Festival hit.

Dawn was talented too, and she could have found the big time. In the Eighties, she appeared in four television dramas and she had permission to miss school to practise at Newcastle's Tyne Theatre. There, at 13, she played in the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

But Northumberland Street was her final stage. Dawn was found dead in a public lavatory in the Byker district of the city, beside the drug-taking equipment that delivered a fatal overdose of heroin.

Every year, many addicts die anonymously but Dawn, with her three young children, will be remembered because of a remarkable gamble her father made seven months ago in a final desperate attempt to restore her to a decent life. Dave Percy pleaded with the people of Newcastle to ignore Dawn as they passed her spot between BHS and C&A because he feared the money they might give her would buy drugs and kill her.

He pulled no punches. "She's never had a job," he said. "I suppose she thinks, 'Why work for £4 an hour when I can make £30 with benefits on top'." Mr Percy was on the brink of tears at his home in Wallsend, Tyneside, yesterday as he told Dawn's story of desperately unfulfilled promise.

Both daughters had loved to sing around the piano with him and play his ukelele. "We were always singing songs together and we had hundreds of tapes," he said. The girls also loved to watch him perform on guitar and keyboards, and singing, before his vocal cords couldn't take the punishment of the club scene any longer.

"They were always there watching their dad," said Mr Percy, 55, who now works for Newcastle City Council. "They came to Christmas parties at the clubs and they were in the talent contests. Dawn was a good all-rounder, singing Wham! songs. She would come home and sing the stuff she'd learnt at school. She had a marvellous voice."

By the age of 12, Sharon had taken to the stage at the local Tyne Theatre, playing the lead role in Annie for two years running. But Dawn matched her sister every step of the way, with her own Tyne Theatre part in Fiddler and the four television appearances. At seven, she had played Sharon, in Venchie, a Tyne-Tees play for children. She was an extra in a BBC drama Funny Man and a bridesmaid in a play, Dramarama for Tyne-Tees.

For Dawn, there were barely enough hours in a day. She was a keen swimmer and interested in karate. Sharon continued to progress on the stage but Dawn gave up the theatre for sport.

When she was 12, her parents parted. Mr Percy kept the girls but Dawn fell into bad company and began to play truant. "It was a worry," said Mr Percy. "I didn't fully understand what had happened." He asked Dawn's mother to care for her for a time, which she did, and that seemed to work.

But Dawn wound up in care locally although there was no dislocation from the family. It is difficult to read any hints of what was to follow into her difficult adolescent years.

"When she came out of care at 17, she was a fine solid woman," said Mr Percy. "She got her own flat and was doing well." Dawn turned to her music again, taking up the guitar and asking her father to teach her some of his David Bowie and Doors numbers.

"I was amazed," said Mr Percy. "I used to love The Doors and here she was wanting to learn it. She was a good little guitarist too." There were some problems and Dawn was 21 and bringing up the youngest of her three children when she met Robert Jones, now 25.

Her sister was at drama college and Dawn had talked vaguely of the same aspiration or of setting up a shop selling Indian jewellery and clothes.

Instead, they married and Dawn took to the streets. Soon Mr Percy's second wife Grace read the signs. "It was she, not me, who saw Dawn's eyes dilated. She knew what it meant."

Dawn's three girls, now aged seven, three and one, were rescued by social workers in January from her once-smart flat, then littered with needles and almost bare of furniture.

After Mr Percy asked people to ignore his daughter's pleas for cash, journalists approached Mr Jones at the couple's first-floor flat in Heaton, Newcastle. They found its back gates open and bags of rotting rubbish spilling into the streets. Mr Jones yelled obscenities but would not open the door.

Mr Percy said: "You don't know why someone loves someone else but she loved him." He took the couple a TV, video, and washing machine but the gifts vanished. "I feared they were sold to buy drugs," he said.

He last saw his daughter three weeks ago. She had got rid of the dreadlocks that still make him shudder. "She told me there's another friend of mine who's died, I'm frightened," said Mr Percy. "We clung to a little hope that things might be getting better.

"Society has to find a way of getting rid of this drugs evil. There are hundreds of victims who died like Dawn. She was a beautiful girl. I never stopped loving her." Sharon is with her father. "We were so close and yet we took such different paths," she said. "Every so often she would come to see me. I couldn't go to her because I never knew where she would be."

Yesterday Mr Jones, her official next-of-kin, had not yet been to the coroner's office to start the process that will lead to the release of Dawn's body. So her family do not know when the funeral will be.

Dawn's children are in the care of foster parents. Mr Percy has had to tell the eldest her mother is dead. And the little tin whistle will never sound again.

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