Abuse Caused Teenager’s Aerosol Death

A teenager died after abusing a can of fabric freshener which her family thought she sprayed to hide the smell of cigarettes, a coroner ruled today. The distraught mother of Helen Coffey thought her daughter was using the aerosol to mask the smell of tobacco on her clothes. The 14-year-old was taken to hospital when she was found collapsed and “smelling of furniture polish” by her sister. She died a week later on April 19 last year from brain damage.

Agnes Coffey, a mother of nine, wept as Cardiff coroner Mary Hassell returned a verdict of death by non-dependent drug abuse.

Helen’s inquest heard expert scientific evidence that it would have been virtually impossible to inhale a lethal does of the aerosol accidentally, even if she was covering herself in it to hide the smell of smoke.

Ms Hassell said: “In the light of everything that I have heard I’m of the view that the only conclusion that I can come to is that Helen was abusing the aerosol and that she had inhaled a substance which in ordinary use isn’t toxic, but when abused is terribly, terribly dangerous.”

Mrs Coffey said she had never known her daughter to take drugs or abuse solvents, but suspected she might be a secret smoker.

“I was just waiting to catch her until then, and explain it was wrong and to stop doing it and whatever,” she said giving evidence.

Helen’s 21-year-old sister Dorothy told the court she stayed at home in Rumney, Cardiff, with Helen and two other siblings on the night of April 12 when their parents went out.

She said she heard a “squeaking noise” and asked her little sister Mol to check on Helen.

“She said, “There’s something wrong with Helen’,” Dorothy said.

“I went out and she was lying on the floor. There was all froth coming out of her mouth and she was shaking.”

She phoned her parents who arrived from the pub as Helen was being put in a car. She was taken to a local police station where an ambulance was called. Paramedic Jonathon Aberg told the court Helen was bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth as he tried to resuscitate her.

He said he was told by a relative that Helen had been smoking and had “sprayed a deodorant in the bathroom”, which he thought could cause the bleeding.

The court was shown the Deofab aerosol can and a can of air fragrance that police found among a pile of clothes in Helen’s room.