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By Jeremy Armstrong
Lee Halpin, 26, had been staying in a derelict house in Newcastle as part of a film about life on the streets
A young documentary maker did not freeze to death while making a film on the homeless but died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, a coroner ruled today.
Lee Halpin, 26, was found by a man he had befriended in a derelict house where they had slept during extremely cold weather.
The budding journalist wanted to “go it alone” to show what it was like to sleep rough and planned to live on the streets for a week.
At the time of his death in April, it was thought he had suffered hypothermia as temperatures plunged to -4.2 C.
But he died as a result of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome just three days into his project, an inquest into his death heard.
Coroner Karen Dilks concluded the young film-maker, hoping to win a place with Channel 4 as an investigative reporter, died from natural causes.
The day before he started sleeping rough, he recorded a poignant message as part of his application to Channel 4, and posted it on YouTube.
He said: “I am about to go and spend a week being homeless in the West End of Newcastle.
“I will sleep rough for a week, scrounge for my food, access the services that other homeless individuals use.
“I will interact with as many homeless people as possible and immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can.
“I hope that you perceive this to be a fearless approach to a story. It certainly feels brave where I am sat right now, about to embark on this documentary.
“It has certainly caused a huge amount of trepidation among my family and friends who do think it is a brave thing to do.
“That’s the impression I want to leave you with about my willingness to get to the heart of a story.”
He spent one night sleeping near a roundabout in Newcastle, his hometown.
Daniel McEwan, who was homeless, then asked him if he wanted to spend the next night in a derelict former hostel.
The next morning, he found Lee was cold and unresponsive and raised the alarm.
Det Sgt Nick Walker, who investigated the tragedy, said the derelict building in the West End of Newcastle had no heating and was so cold he could see his breath when he went inside.
Lee had been to a city centre pub the night before and drank alcohol, but was not drunk and consumed far less than a lethal amount, the inquest heard.
The only drugs found in his system were anti-depressants he was prescribed following the break-up of a relationship.
He was apparently healthy, but was in an unfamiliar situation, attempting “a hard lifestyle at the time when the UK was experiencing particularly cold weather”, the inquest heard.
But he did not die from hypothermia, Dr Gemma Kemp, a specialist registrar in forensic pathology, told the hearing at Newcastle civic centre.
She also ruled out any third party involvement in his death.
Lee died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, where his heart stopped despite not having any obvious disease.
Dr Kemp added: “This is a diagnosis of exclusion. You have to rule out everything else.”
Dr Mary Sheppard, a national heart expert from London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, looked at the case and agreed with Dr Kemp’s findings.
Dr Mary said in evidence submitted to the hearing: “This could have occurred at any time or place. The circumstances in which Lee was living played no part.”
Concluding Ms Dilks told Lee’s family: “Dr Kemp found no evidence of injury, suspicious circumstances, natural disease, fatal levels of alcohol or drugs or hypothermia.
“I record the cause of death is Sudden Adult Death Syndrome and Lee died from natural causes.”
Lee’s last messages on Twitter asked his 1,500 followers if anyone could help with items for his week in the cold, including a sleeping bag.
He had spoken with his friends about the project, and how he was looking forward to making the film.
Also on Twitter, friend Dan Howarth described him as a “talented, courageous and thoroughly excellent bloke”.
Lee, of Heaton, Newcastle, had just completed a creative writing MA at Newcastle University when he died.
He went on to become a founder editor of Novel, a magazine covering all aspects of North East culture from performances and exhibitions to launch parties and talent.