Drugs Probe Inquest Wait — (This is Exeter)

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This is Exeter

BY JOHN FLETCHER

12:00 – 26 June 2004

A family has won a partial victory after a Devon coroner took the unusual step of adjourning an inquest to await a Government inquiry into a controversial anti-depressant drug. The inquest into the death of 53-year-old teacher Stephen Leggett, who died in a fireball at a Devon beauty spot, began yesterday.

Police found his charred body near an opened petrol can at Blackbury Camp, off the Seaton to Ottery road in East Devon.

The father of two, from Ilminster in Somerset and who was on the staff of a school in Taunton, was taking the anti-depressant drug Citalopram, which is at the centre of a Government probe amid claims it causes sufferers to commit suicide. The drug is known as an SSRI – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.

Results of investigative work being undertaken on the drug are expected in the autumn, a fact which brought an adjournment to the inquest to a date to be fixed by the Greater Devon and Exeter coroner, Dr Elizabeth Earland, yesterday.

She told the inquest at Honiton that the inquest would continue after the findings by the Government were known, probably in September.

Solicitor Fiona Elder, representing the family, said: “SSRIs are an ongoing area of research. If there is potential evidence on the intention of these drugs, it could alter a verdict.”

In police statements, officers said they had been called on March 15 to Blackbury Camp, where they had found Mr Leggett’s burnt body down a track. A screw top from a plastic petrol container was also recovered and his car was found nearby.

A post-mortem examination and toxicology tests for drugs revealed the deceased had traces of alcohol and Citalopram.

In a statement, GP David Patter said his patient had been stressed and depressed and had wanted to get away from his job. He had been drinking lager on the day he disappeared.

The coroner said the adjournment was necessary, adding: “Clearly, there are other families in similar circumstances to this requiring more time, so I am adjourning this inquest to a date to be fixed.”

Afterwards, the deceased’s widow, Rosalind, said: “I am pleased to have received an adjournment.”

Her son Thom added: “We are happy to be given more time and feel this is a success in the controversy surrounding SSRIs.”