'Spice' drug branded 'evil' after Fratton woman at centre of manslaughter probe dies in park – with coroner warning people of dangers

THE former partner of a woman who suddenly collapsed and died in a Fratton park – sparking a manslaughter probe – has branded the class B drug spice as ‘evil’ after it resulted in her death.

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 9:06 am
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 10:22 am

Calls from Pete Harbert, 54, were echoed by Hampshire’s senior coroner Chris Wilkinson who told an inquest into the death of troubled Zoey Ward, 43, that he was ‘very concerned about its availability’.

The deadly drug, which is rife in prisons, can cause ‘death without any notice’, Mr Wilkinson told Portsmouth Coroner’s Court – with the coroner saying he would ‘give consideration to what could be done’.

The hearing was told how Ms Ward, who was a long-term resident at homeless shelter Hope House on Milton Road, died after taking the drug at Kingston Park on July 23.

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Zoey Ward's ex-partner Pete Harbert

The inquest heard how Ms Ward walked over to a group of men from the homeless shelter clutching a bottle of vodka and a cigarette at around 10am when minutes later she suddenly had a seizure and keeled over.

Josh Hughes, who was with Ms Ward, said: ‘She appeared well but 15 minutes later her head was tilted down and her face had gone blue. She was unconscious.’

Mr Hughes attempted CPR after paramedics were called, who fought to save Ms Ward but declared her dead at 10.55am.

The death sparked a police probe that saw Mr Hughes arrested for manslaughter after he was alleged to have given Ms Ward spice on a previous occasion. Fortunately on that occasion earlier in July, Ms Ward survived after being found by an ambulance that was coincidentally already at Hope House.

Det Sgt Barry Martin told the inquest: ‘We attended Hope House after hearing about a previous incident where we heard Josh had given Zoey spice before she had a seizure which raised concerns for us.

‘We found spice on Josh after searching him and arrested him for manslaughter.’

He added: ‘People were saying (Mr Hughes) enjoyed seeing people have a bad reaction (to taking spice).’

But police ended the investigation after Mr Hughes denied giving Ms Ward spice when he was interviewed. CCTV from Kingston Park proved inconclusive, while witnesses from the incident were unable to confirm what happened – with police unable to trace one of the individuals who was there.

‘No evidential link that Josh gave her spice was provided and we could not prove her death was his motive or that he wanted to cause an adverse reaction.’

But an angry Mr Harbert then shouted to the officer: ‘He (Mr Hughes) should be banged up. He is laughing at you.’

He added: ‘Spice is evil.’

The court heard how Ms Ward had a troubled life after having her baby taken into care when she was a young lady before she became heavily involved with drugs, including heroin, and alcohol.

Ms Ward had suffered ‘drug-induced psychosis’ and had bouts of schizophrenia, as well as ‘hearing voices’ telling her to ‘just do it’ and to slit her own throat.

A month before her death she had been admitted to Queen Alexandra Hospital for taking an overdose of anti-depressants. During July she had also been found collapsed in the lounge of Hope House after taking spice. ‘She did not want to address her issues,’ her mental health practitioner, Lindsey Gray, said.

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Pathologist Brett Lockyer, who carried out the post mortem, said death was caused by spice intoxication whilst also having a high-level of anti-depressant drugs and alcohol in her system.

Coroner Mr Wilkinson, recording a verdict of accidental death caused by a drug overdose, said: ‘Zoey had struggles after having to give up her child and turned to self-help by using hard drugs including heroin and spice.’

Speaking of his concerns over spice, he added: ‘I’m very concerned over the availability and the effects it has. It is very unpredictable and can cause sudden death without notice.

‘I will give consideration to what can be done about it.’

After the hearing Mr Harbert said: ‘Spice is everywhere, especially in prisons. It’s cheap so lots of people do it. But two puffs can put you unconscious.’

Ms Ward’s sister Hayley Penny said: ‘I’m sure if it had ben heroin that had killed Zoey the police would have taken things further. But they did all they could because it is a class B drug.’