Chef in fatal fall had taken lethal level of cocaine

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The Independent Online

A leading chef for Gordon Ramsay, who fell to his death after a violent rampage through a block of flats, may have been suffering from "excited delirium syndrome" caused by cocaine, an inquest was told yesterday.

Dr Paul Knapman, the Westminster coroner, recorded a verdict of accidental death on David Dempsey, 31, after being told the syndrome could affect regular cocaine users without warning. Dr Knapman said: "It does seem he had a reaction; that he might have had excited delirium. He acted completely out of character and ultimately it caused his death.''

Mr Dempsey, from Glasgow, died weeks after taking up a job as head chef of the Michelin three-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London. Mr Dempsey, who had three children, was a protégé of Mr Ramsay and had helped to earn a Michelin star for his Glasgow restaurant, Amaryllis.

At an earlier hearing, Paul Carroll, a colleague of Mr Dempsey, said that after the two men met that evening in May, the chef told him: "I did a bit of charlie earlier." They had drinks and Mr Dempsey had said he was going home because he "didn't feel himself".

Forty minutes later Mr Dempsey rampaged through flats in Chelsea, breaking windows with a golf club and leaping between window ledges. He fell from the second floor. The level of cocaine in his blood was 1.36 milligrams per litre. Dr Nikolas Lemos, a toxicologist, told the inquest levels of higher than 0.9 milligrams were potentially fatal.

At yesterday's resumed hearing, Professor John Henry, an expert on clinical toxicology and former head of the national poisons unit at Guy's Hospital in London, said: "There is a condition - normally in regular users of cocaine - where they can become ill and violent in an unusual manner. Within 24 hours [of cocaine use] they can start to become confused, ill, paranoid and hallucinatory.''

Professor Henry quoted from the American Journal of Forensic Medicine, which said: "The most perplexing and bizarre deaths of cocaine use are those following a psychotic reaction to the drug known as excited delirium. The typical scenario is rapid onset of paranoia, followed by violence towards objects, particularly glass." He rejected suggestions from John Cooper, the lawyer representing Mr Dempsey's family, that his drink had been spiked and that he could not have been a regular user because there was no evidence of internal damage.

Mr Ramsay had said he did not suspect Mr Dempsey of taking drugs and that staff found using drugs would be sacked.

After the inquest, Mr Dempsey's family issued a statement, saying: "We would like to say how much we miss him. He was a loving partner, caring father and loyal son, who we will never forget. We repeat the words of the coroner, that David's actions ... were totally out of character."