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An inquest has been told that a Royal Navy veteran died after drinking a mouthful from a pear drink shipped from the Caribbean that contained cocaine in a concentration at least 20 times the lethal level.
Joromie Lewis, 33, originally from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, became ill after trying the drink which he spat out because of its bitter taste.
Lewis, of Gosport, Hampshire, was working at a food import company when he consumed the drink on December 5 last year and died the same night at the Southampton General Hospital.
The inquest jury heard how tests showed that the drink, called Pear D, contained an “overwhelmingly high” concentration of cocaine.
“Joromie worked for a company which imported food and drink from the Caribbean and distributed them in this country. He was a driver and general assistant working mainly on a part-time basis,” said Graham Short, coroner for Central Hampshire.
He said on December 5 last year, Joromie drank from a bottle at his employer’s garage where he was unpacking a delivery of drinks. The bottle was labeled Pear D, a form of pear cordial not normally available in this country.
“He took only one mouthful, and he felt it tasted bitter and spat it out. After this, he started to feel unwell and he was taken to hospital by his friends. He died later the same day at Southampton General Hospital.
“Tests of the contents of the bottle showed it had a very high concentration of the drug cocaine in solution,” Short said.
Basil Purdue, a Home Office pathologist, said the bottle was part of a consignment of 90 cases imported into the country and that the bottle had tested for dissolved cocaine – a smuggling method for the drug.
He said Lewis was a healthy man whose only medical issue had been a problem with his back which had led to him receiving a medical discharge from the Navy in 2012.
Stating that the cause of death was cocaine intoxication, Dr Purdue said toxicology tests showed that Lewis had a “very high” cocaine level of 21.3mg per litre of blood, with a fatal level being as low as 1mg. The drink would have contained one gramme of cocaine in 3ml of liquid.
He compared the level to that of a drug smuggler who died after four cocaine packages burst in his stomach, leaving him with a level of 4mg/l.
Carole Willis of Hampshire Scientific Services said an examination showed the bottle contained 189g of cocaine.
Juanette Allen, company secretary of Kelly’s Shipping UK Ltd, said the firm imported drinks from the Caribbean at the request of customers.
“In this case, we didn’t source the drink, we just facilitated the process of bringing it from St. Vincent to the UK,” she said.
She explained that the van-load of drinks arrived at Portsmouth docks on November 24 and, once duties had been paid, Lewis collected it two days later and took it to the garage at Allen’s home in Southampton where the company is based.
She said the company had not ordered any Pear D drink and she had not come across the brand before.
“I was familiar with a drink called Pear Drops and I assumed it was linked to this drink,” Allen said.