A CORONER’S inquest into the mysterious death of then Coventry City Council deputy leader Phil Townshend, aged 57, has recorded a verdict of death by ‘natural causes’ – and heard a cocktail of painkilling and antidepressant drugs could have contributed.
The inquest at Leamington Justice Centre also heard questions about Coventry council leader Ann Lucas who, along with fellow Labour councillor Ed Ruane had discovered him dead at his home, removing a rug and mess including sick.
Mr Townshend’s daughter Kirstie Logan said Coun Lucas told her in a phone call that the painkillers had been binned, saying: “I spoke to Ann. She said ‘don’t worry about it. There were some painkillers. They were in the bin.”
Coun Lucas, giving evidence, denied under questioning from the coroner, that she had moved medicine boxes or any drugs paraphernalia.
The drugs present in Mr Townshend’s blood after his death at his Allesley village home on October 15 last year included morphine, as well as ‘toxic levels’ of antidepressant Amitriptyline, and usually safe levels of sleeping pill Tamazepam and painkillers Tramadol and Codeine, said NHS consultant pathologist Kevin West.
The inquest also heard from the police at the scene who said he had left a ‘last will’, and that his financial arrangements had been left ‘oddly’ in order, appearing to make matters easy for his family. His daughter claimed he was always tidy with such matters, but said she did not know of the will when she left the home before his death.
The police said the removal of the body was “surprising” and suggested it was unhelpful in assessing the scene, and the inquest heard questions concerning claims Mr Townshend would sleep with a knife under the pillow.
Ms Logan made reference to Mr Townshend being the ‘life and soul’ publicly, but often quiet and very stressed, unwell and exhausted at home, with physical pain.
The inquest also heard some indirect references to stressful features in his life in the run-up to his death which the coroner said were not relevant to the inquest.
The Coventry Observer revealed in November that Mr Townshend had ongoing £300,000 debts to the taxpayer from his insolvent former solicitors’ firm in liquidation, Townshends LLP; and a court dispute over his alleged use of the assets of a 78-year-old vulnerable woman. Both matters remain subject to ongoing proceedings.
An initial post mortem and further toxicology tests into his death were inconclusive.
We also revealed that Coventry council in November told us in response to our enquiries that £8,200 of city taxpayers’ money would be spent on the rare civil funeral and reception which took place at Coventry Cathedral. Former Labour leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband were among those who paid tribute to Mr Townshend’s work for the community and Labour Party.
Coroner Dr Richard Brittain recorded a verdict of death by natural causes ‘on the balance of probabilities’ caused by ischaemic heart disease and noted the contributory factor of the drugs, as outlined by Dr West. Mr Townshend had collapsed and was found in the bathroom. He had dangerous 90 per cent narrowing of the arteries, Dr West said.
Dr Brittain said the evidence from family and colleagues was that Mr Townshend became particularly unwell in the days before his death. He said Mr Townshend took prescribed and ‘self sourced’ drugs for his ailments. His daughter said she did not know where he sourced pure morphine.
Coun Lucas said she had told him to go home from the Council House days before his death and not come back until he was better. Of a conversation she had with the police regarding potential suicide, Coun Lucas said: “I believe she said, ‘Had he ever spoken about harming himself?’ I said ‘never’.”
She added her ‘best friend’ “would never have deliberately hurt himself.”
She explained she had wanted to do some cleaning so that Mr Townshend’s daughter would not have to see upsetting things on her return. Coun Lucas claims she checked with police first.