Expert warned over students’ return weeks before deaths of four young people


An expert said she warned the authorities about students going to university amid lockdown restrictions weeks before four young people died within hours of each other after apparently taking illegal drugs.

Two women aged 18 living in the same Newcastle University accommodation died after they were thought to have taken ketamine.

The university said the teenagers had been in the city for less than 48 hours when they died.

The first died on Saturday morning and the second was found unresponsive on Sunday lunchtime.

An 18-year-old, who was not a student, in nearby Washington, Tyne and Wear, and a 21-year-old from Northumbria University living in Newcastle also died over the weekend, after they apparently took MDMA separately.

Northumbria Police said they have arrested a total of 10 people and a large investigation is under way, including using drug dogs to search student accommodation.

Professor Fiona Measham is chair in criminology at Liverpool University and co-founded The Loop, a harm reduction charity which promotes health and wellbeing in nightlife venues and tests pills and powders found by police or door staff to identify substances of concern.

She told the PA news agency: “This is something I have been warning about all summer to anyone who would listen.

“Everyone was so busy with coronavirus and no-one was thinking about what would happen when the students came back.

“There’s no nightclubs and pubs close at 10pm.

“Nightclubs are a semi-safe space, they have registered door staff and security, the bigger clubs often have paramedics, they have chillout spaces.

“If you don’t have nightclubs open, you lose that safety net.

“My concern was that over the summer there were illegal raves and now the weather is turning bad, young people will be having parties in private residences but they won’t have paramedics on hand.

“The added concern is that if someone takes ill in a nightclub, club security will call an ambulance, but if someone is at a private party, students might be scared about calling an ambulance.

“They don’t want to get into trouble.

“If you don’t get prompt medical care, we know it can be a really risky situation.

“The delay in calling an ambulance might be the difference between life and death.”

But Newcastle University’s vice-chancellor Professor Chris Day said freshers’ week had not been a factor in either of the young students’ deaths.

During a virtual news conference, he said: “This happened in the first 48 hours, freshers’ week had only just started to kick off.”

Prof Day has written to every student warning them about the two tragedies.

He told reporters the university was well aware of the difficulties new students have faced in their final year of school, prior to starting further education, and they would receive help.

Addressing them, he said: “Whatever difficulties you have gone through, we have ample support both at the university and in the city.

“Whatever those problems are, please do not turn to excessive alcohol or drugs to solve them because you have seen the potential consequences.”

Prof Day, a father of three, said he had spoken to his undergraduate daughter in the light of the tragedy and he understood the worries parents of students must be experiencing.

Chief Inspector Steve Wykes urged anyone with illegal drugs to safely dispose of them, either to the university authorities if they were a student, or at a police station if they were not, explaining his focus was to ensure public safety.

Mr Wykes said: “This weekend, we have seen the tragic loss of four young lives and our thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of those who have sadly died.”

He said it was too early to say if the drugs were part of two larger deadly batches.

“Illegal drugs are never safe and the danger that they pose cannot be underestimated,” he told reporters.