Youth freed as Leah jury fails to reach verdict

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The Independent Online
Matthew Brace

The father of Leah Betts, the teenager who died after taking an ecstasy tablet at her 18th birthday party, said yesterday that justice will not be done until the key dealers who supplied the drugs were caught and convicted.

Paul Betts, a 50-year-old former police inspector, spoke after the end of a trial in which a 19-year-old man was found not guilty of buying the ecstasy tablet which killed Leah. The jury at Norwich Crown Court said it could not agree on a verdict in the trial of Steven Packman, of Laindon, Essex.

It was the second time that a jury had failed to reach a decision in the trial. The first trial in Norwich in December was abandoned and the second trial arranged. After jurors said they could not agree yesterday, prosecution lawyers said they would be offering no further evidence and the judge, Mr Justice Wright, formally recorded a verdict of not guilty against Mr Packman.

Mr Packman's former friend, Stephen Smith, 19, of Basildon, Essex, admitted an identical charge at the December hearing and was given a conditional discharge.

Leah's friend, Sarah Cargill, and Louise Yexley, both 18 and of Basildon, have also admitted being concerned with the supply of ecstasy to Leah.

They have both been formally cautioned by police.

Mr Betts and Leah's stepmother, Janet, 47, a nurse, attended both this trial and the December hearing.

Outside court, Mr Betts talked of his feelings. "It's the end of one chapter and the start of a new life," he said.

"There is a lot that can be learned because it shows that from one simple little tablet there have been about eight families traumatised.

"Justice is not done until the biggies are caught."

He said he felt no bitterness towards Mr Smith or any of the youngsters who had helped get the ecstasy tablet to Leah.

"At the beginning when Leah died I could have quite happily strangled someone, but now I understand the way drug culture works and it is no different to offering someone a cigaret- te. There is no bitterness at all."

Leah, of Latchingdon, Essex, died in November 1995 after collapsing into a coma as a result of taking one ecstasy tablet during her 18th birthday party.

The court heard how Leah and Miss Cargill had wanted ecstasy for the party - at the home of Leah's father and stepmother - and had obtained it through friends. They had spent pounds 22.50 each on four ecstasy tablets.

Miss Cargill had asked Miss Yexley if she could get the drugs. Miss Yexley had asked Mr Smith, her boyfriend.

Mr Smith said Mr Packman had approached a dealer at a Basildon nightclub called Raquel's, on his behalf. Mr Packman denied that and said Mr Smith was lying.

The jury also heard that Mr Packman had been taped, by the News of the World newspaper, talking to the head doorman at Raquel's. During that conversation with Patrick O'Mahoney - who is also known as Bernie King, Mr Packman appeared to admit buying the drugs.

But Mr Packman said he had approached Mr O'Mahoney after being told the doorman wanted to talk to him about the drugs supplied to Leah. Mr Packman said Mr O'Mahoney had a reputation for violence and that he had said anything the doorman wanted to hear because he feared for his safety.

Police said outside court that this aspect of their investigation was now at an end.

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