Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Mystery over drug death of joinery company boss

A BUSINESSMAN was found dead in his kitchen from a suspected drug overdose, an inquest heard.

A BUSINESSMAN was found dead in his kitchen from a suspected drug overdose, an inquest heard.

Jonathan Lang, who owned KIGI Joinery in Shiplake, was slumped against a cupboard in a pool of his own blood when he was discovered by a friend at his flat in Ancastle Green, Henley, on September 19.

The 39-year-old was still holding a used syringe and wearing a belt tied around his left arm.

A paper bag with traces of heroin was on the kitchen counter and about 20 used syringes were found in his car while traces of cocaine were found in his system, Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court heard on Wednesday.

However, a toxicology report and post mortem failed to determine a definitive cause of death. Coroner Darren Salter read out a statement by Alex Kay, a friend of Mr Lang, who found his body.

Mr Kay, a technical consultant, of Gravel Hill, Henley, said he last saw his friend three days before his death and Mr Lang was excited about a move to Thailand with his brother Mark the following month.

He said: “I met Jon for a few drinks and he was excited about his work life. He was going to be a diving instructor because he was passionate about diving.

“He had found a buyer for his house and was selling his car. Jon was very conversational and relaxed, not stressed, and was just his usual self.

“He was excited about winding up his business and going off to enjoy himself for the first time in years. I knew he did drugs but I can’t say what because I wasn’t party to it.”

On September 19, Mr Kay received a text from Mark Lang asking if he had heard from his brother.

Mr Kay called a mutual friend Joseph Crowe and the pair drove to Mr Lang’s flat. When there was no answer at the door, Mr Kay entered through a door on the balcony which he knew was often left unlocked. After finding his friend in the kitchen he called an ambulance.

Pc David Harksworth, who was called to the flat, said: “I could see the body of a man slumped. He was almost on his back with his shoulders and back against the cupboard.

“He had a leather belt around his left arm and he was clutching a hypodermic syringe in his right hand.”

Dc Jonathan Axford, the investigating officer, said the syringe appeared to have been used as the plunger was pressed down and included drug residue. The syringe was not tested.

A folded paper bag containing 71mg of brown powder, which included a 53 per cent trace of heroin, was found on the kitchen counter.

Dc Axford said there was no evidence of foul play and he had assumed Mr Lang’s death was caused by an overdose.

He found handwritten notes in a bedside chest of drawers containing song titles and lyrics by Johnny Cash and Pink Floyd that suggested Mr Lang was using heroin.

“They showed he was feeling low and apologised to family members,” said Dc Axford.

“The songs talk about needles and death but they didn’t say anything about an intention to take his own life explicitly.”

Mark Lang, an engineer who was living abroad, said his brother had lost “vigour” for his business over the previous two or three years as it got into debt and he had been stressed about it.

He said: “We once had a conversation about dying. He said that if he had to choose a way of dying it would be a heroin overdose, although it wasn’t a serious conversation.”

Dr Chris Langley, from the Bell Surgery in York Road, said Mr Lang had no underlying health issues but a report from a previous GP showed he had been using heroin between 1994 and 1996 and was on a methadone programme.

Sandra Carter, a forensic toxicologist, said that there were no traces of heroin in his system but there were traces of cocaine.

Dr Ben Phillips, a consultant pathologist, said: “The post mortem shows a presence of cocaine but the findings don’t point to a definitive cause of death from drugs, so at the time I formulated this report the death is unascertained.”

Adjourning the inquest for further investigation, the coroner said his most likely verdict was an open one because he could find no definitive cause.

He said: “If the evidence is insufficient to substantiate the cause we have to accept that there are some cases where no matter what further inquiries are made it doesn’t take us any further and I think this might be one of those cases. I agree it’s certainly the appearance of a drug-related death but without any evidence of a firm cause of death due to a drug overdose that places me with some difficulty.

“I can’t presume there was an overdose or an intention to take his own life.”

Mr Lang’s younger brother Andrew said the family had not been aware he was using heroin again.

He said: “There’s some seriously unanswered questions. This isn’t a cut and dry overdose, particularly if the syringe was tested positive for heroin. I think third-party involvement needs to be considered.”

Mr Lang, whose daughter Rebekah is in the armed forces, was a well-known figure in Henley and seen by many as a fun-loving and generous friend who loved fast cars and motor boats. Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral at St Mary’s Church in October.

The inquest is expected to be resumed later this year.

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