Dangers of legal highs laid bare in tragic death of young man who 'lost control of his mind'
A mother has spoken of her anguish after her 24-year-old son was turned away for psychiatric help - then took his own life six days later.
The Northampton-born young man developed severe mental health issues after becoming addicted to legal highs, an inquest heard.
Then, when his family thought he was safe in hospital and getting help, the police came to his mother's house to say her son had been found dead.
Heather Bryant, in a statement read out by the coroner, said: "If I had known he had been discharged, I would have spoken to him and got him help. But no one told me. Now whether I could have helped him is something I will never know."
The tragic circumstances leading to the death of Reece Aaron Bryant, 24, were heard at an inquest on Wednesday (April 19) and told how a young man lost his mind to legal highs and even got himself arrested in a plea for help - before he was turned down by Berrywood Hospital, Northampton, for psychiatric treatment.
Mrs Bryant said: "Reece was a happy boy growing up. He was always chatting and was a bit clumsy in his way. He did well in school even if he wasn't a true academic, and he went to college to study mechanics. He had a passion for cars.
"He was a tall, handsome lad, who always wore his best clothes and took pride in how he looked."
But when Reece was a teenager, his world was rocked by problems at home, including the separation of his parents and the death of his nan, who he was very close to.
Mrs Bryant said: "He took a turn for the worst and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Around 18, he started going out a lot. He spent hours in bed and wouldn't get up. He took up smoking. I started to suspect he was taking drugs and even using petty crime to buy them.
Reece's habit landed him in prison twice. It was here, Mrs Bryants believes, that he was introduced to legal highs.
She said: "He must have thought they were okay to use because they were 'legal'.
"I'll never forget the afternoon he showed them to me. We were in the garden when he pulled out a packet with a green, herby substance in it. There was a picture of a Mexican hat on the front and the name 'Desperado'. He rolled it into a joint and smoked it.
"The change in him was instant. He went from being laidback and cheerful to fidgety and paranoid. He eyes were so wide. He thought there were cameras in my kitchen and talked about how people were after him."
Reece's drug addiction and paranoia got worse over time. He began showing withdrawal symptoms to the then-legal substance, including vomiting and shaking. But there were other side effects.
Mrs Bryant said: "I would hear him arguing with someone in his room. But there was no one else in there. He was talking to thin air.
"He began to talk about how 'people were after him'. He asked me if I was 'in on it'.
"There is a direct link between the drugs and the damage to his mental health."
Reece got more and more out of hand, until he left his mother's house and began sleeping on the streets. His family and friends would offer him help whenever they saw him, but he would never let them.
William Inkson is the head of security at Northampton General Hospital and was asked to give evidence at the inquest.
He said: "Reece was well known to the security team. In two years, we logged 65 incidents where Reece would gain access to the hospital, where he would hide, sleep and smoke, sometimes even using drugs. It marked a pattern where he would either leave after time or have to be removed, and he would sometimes turn violent.
"We often tried to help him and offer to put him touch with homeless charities, shelters and drug counselling. But he refused every time. On the occasions we could talk to him, he was pleasant and we enjoyed our conversations."
Then, in April 2016, the police were called to a domestic incident at Reece's grandfather's house. Reece had tried to swallow his grandfather's blood pressure medication to 'stop the voices', the inquest heard.
Mrs Bryant said: "When the police arrived, Reece kissed me on the forehead and went straight out to meet the police. He needed and wanted help, and thought being arrested was the best way to do this.
"The police told him he had done nothing wrong. So he smashed some fence panels and pleaded for them to take him away. So they arrested him."
Reece was handed over to Berrywood Hospital, Northampton, and an assessment of his mental health was carried out.
Dr Mustafa, who assessed Reece, said in evidence: "It was apparent he was acutely mentally unwell. He was very forgetful and answered many questions with 'I don't remember'. He did not seem to know his date of birth, but he said he knew his nan had died. He complained of having thousands of voices in his head, which I determined to be pseudo-hallucinations. At one point he turned violent and had to be restrained.
"I felt his condition did not warrant admission to the hospital, and could be treated with follow-up visits and referrals. He was then discharged."
Six days later, in May 2016, Reece was found dead at Northampton General Hospital.
A member of staff found him in a disused shower room, where he had taken his own life. An ambulance was called but the crew said there was nothing they could do.
Mrs Bryant said: "The police came to my house and said Reece was dead. I didn't understand. I was led to believe he was safe in hospital and getting help for his mental issues. They did not tell us he had been discharged.
"He had no control over his mind because of the legal highs.If I had known he had been discharged, I would have spoken to him and got him help. But no one told me. Now whether I could have helped him is something I will never know.
"I will always remember the hyperactive bubble of fun he was a boy. He will be sadly missed by all his family and friends."
Her Majesty's Coroner Anne Pember ruled that she could not prove Reece's intent in the hours before he died and could only reach an 'open conclusion' into the cause of his death.
A ban on legal highs across the UK came into effect on May 26 2016.