Yates was killed by accidental heroin overdose

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The sombre, wood-panelled chamber of the coroner's court seemed an incongruous setting to relive the last moments of a woman whose life was such a spectacular rollercoaster.

The sombre, wood-panelled chamber of the coroner's court seemed an incongruous setting to relive the last moments of a woman whose life was such a spectacular rollercoaster.

Perhaps fittingly for a star whose entire existence, as a figure of coquettish sexuality or tragic desperation, had been lived in public glare, the media filled the seats yesterday at the inquest into the death of Paula Yates. None of the television presenter's family was there, only a few close friends.

Those who packed the chamber heard hints of the headlines that had punctuated the life of Ms Yates reduced to the matter-of-fact language of Westminster coroner's court.

They heard of her marriage to "Mr Robert Geldof" and their three children, her discovery after the funeral of the television star Hughie Green that he, not Jess Yates, had been her father, and her drug taking. There was reference to her affair with the INXS singer, Michael Hutchence, father of her fourth child, which ended in 1997 when he was found hanging in a Sydney hotel room.

Then there was the detailed description of how, at 41, her naked body was found in her bedroom. A small packet of brown powder, the heroin which killed her, was open on the bedside table.

The broadcaster and journalist, best known for presenting Channel 4's The Tube and The Big Breakfast, had been killed by a heroin overdose because she was an "unsophisticated taker" with a low tolerance point, said the coroner, Dr Paul Knapman.

He returned a verdict of death by non-dependent abuse of drugs. "The behaviour was foolish and incautious and the consequences of her actions resulted in this tragedy," he said.

The "wild child" of her generation had died the way she had lived, without caution. But as her closest friends gave evidence, they appeared determined to counter an image of her as a desperate figure. They said she had been contented and looking forward to a revival of her career. She had not taken illegal drugs for some time.

Yet on 16 September, the day before she died, Belinda Brewin went to the wayward star's home in west London and found her "incoherent". She told the hearing: "I could tell she had been taking drugs. I said to her, 'What are you doing this for after this amount of time. This is ridiculous'." Ms Yates told her the lapse had been caused by the pressure of returning to London from Hastings, East Sussex, where she had spent the summer.

"I said I though that was a pathetic excuse. She said, sorry, she was not herself and please don't be cross with her."

Ms Brewin coaxed Ms Yates into a walk then cleaned the kitchen, where she had been sick. She then made her take a bath and helped her to wash.

Unknown to Ms Brewin, Charlotte Korshak, who met Ms Yates at the Priory Clinic in south London while being treated for heroin addiction, had been sleeping off a quarter of a bottle of vodka in a bedroom in the house at the time. "She [Yates] was very happy and looking forward to getting back to work," said Ms Korshak. "She was in one of the best states I had seen her in since I had known her."

Her only worry had been about the impending publication of a book by Hutchence's family. Ms Korshak said she had not seen Ms Yates take drugs. All three of the presenter's friends had co-operated with police, the inquest was told, and each denied supplying her.

Josephine Fairley Sams, another friend, said Ms Yates had seemed normal when she spoke to her on the phone that day. But the next morning she made three calls to remind Ms Yates that it was her daughter Pixie's 10th birthday, only to have the star's four-year-old child answer the phone.

Each time, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily said: "Mummy was still sleeping", and she could not wake her. Ms Fairley Sams went to the house and was let in by the little girl, so small she had to stand on a chair to open the door.

"I rushed upstairs expecting to tell Paula to wake up. I took one look at her from the doorway and I realised she was dead. I went to touch her and she was cold."

A Home Office pathologist, Dr Iain West, said Ms Yates had died of opiate intoxication. Police discovered cocaine traces on a £5 note near her bed.

Later, her friends said in a statement: "An inquest tells you how someone died, not how they lived. It gives no clue to the fullness and joy of Paula's life. Her friends will always remember her as a loving, warm, affectionate, witty mother, partner, wife and friend."