Drug addict son of the House of C&A threw himself off balcony

Their motto was "Unity makes Strength", and for more than 150 years the Brenninkmeyer family, which founded the clothing giant C&A, prospered under this inclusive mantra. But inclusion within the staunchly Roman Catholic and highly secretive clan apparently comes with a price - that of conformity.

Their motto was "Unity makes Strength", and for more than 150 years the Brenninkmeyer family, which founded the clothing giant C&A, prospered under this inclusive mantra. But inclusion within the staunchly Roman Catholic and highly secretive clan apparently comes with a price - that of conformity.

Yesterday an inquest was told how Oliver Brenninkmeyer, 42, the son of a former director of the high-street chain that was formed in Holland in1841, threw himself to his death while feeling "disowned" by his wealthy family because of a drug addiction lasting 20 years.

The last moments of Mr Brenninkmeyer's troubled life were played out in Cabot Place, part of the Canary Wharf complex in east London, on a Friday evening in February. Office workers heading for a drink at about 6.30pm in one of several bars saw Lancashire-born Mr Brenninkmeyer climbed over the safety rails on the third floor. For a few moments he stood on the ledge, his head turned down and his eyes closed before he turned around. Then he leant back and let go of the rails.

"It looked as though he was going to climb back over," said a witness, Joanna Brady. "He stood there for a few minutes and than I saw him fall."

Mr Brenninkmeyer fell more than 90ft to the marble floor below and suffered multiple injuries. He was taken to hospital but pronounced dead at about 9pm.

The inquest was told that while Mr Brenninkmeyer was not short of money, he lived an itinerant lifestyle, moving between hotels in which he would fantasise about writing his memoirs and painting portraits. Officially he was "of no fixed abode".

The Poplar coroner, Dr Stephen Ming T Chan, said: "He had pretty much been disowned... that might not be the right word, but he had little to do with the family in recent months."

Herbert Brenninkmeyer, the eldest of Mr Brenninkmeyer's eight brothers and sisters, said he thought his brother may have tried to contact his mother. Other than that there had been "very little" contact.

The night before his death, Mr Brenninkmeyer had stayed at the Westbury Hotel, central London, where the cheapest rooms cost more than £225 a night. The police were called to the hotel in the early hours after staff complained that he was drunk and causing problems.

The police released Mr Brenninkmeyer from the cells the following morning, considering him fit to leave. What they did not know was that he had long-standing psychiatric problems, possibly aggravated by his long addiction to heroin, which led him to think he was controlled by voices he heard on television and radio.

The inquest was told that in January, a forensic psychiatrist appointed by Southport magistrates, who were dealing with Mr Brenninkmeyer over a minor offence, said he claimed to have been sexually abused at school and that his father had jumped to his own death in 1993. He said he had always wanted to be an actor.

Dr David Fearnley said Mr Brenninkmeyer said he had travelled to Europe and California to try to deal with his drug addiction but "said his family disowned him because of his conduct".

Dr David Craggs, of the Priory Hospital at Roehampton where Mr Brenninkmeyer was informally admitted 10 days before his death, said he was suspicious of other people and thought he was being controlled by voices.

Recording an open verdict, Dr Chan said there was no doubt that Mr Brenninkmeyer's death was "self-effected". But he added there was "reasonable doubt" about his state of mind.

All of Mr Brenninkmeyer's British family have declined to comment on his death.

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