Outstanding student’s death linked to ‘party drug’ government failed to ban

By Calvin Palmer

A promising medical student found dead at a party had an empty container of the party drug GBL close to her.

Hester Stewart, 21, was found dead at a house in Patcham, Brighton, on Sunday morning, after a friend called police and said that she had taken the liquid drug.

Sussex Police are investigating whether the Sussex University student took the drug knowingly, but a long-term friend has told Stewart’s family that she “never ever took drugs” and would “never have knowingly taken this substance”.

Police are awaiting the results of a post-mortem examination and toxicology tests.

Stewart, a cheerleader, had been at an awards ceremony with her team The Wavettes at the Thistle Hotel, Brighton, on Saturday night, before going to a party in Patcham area of the city.

Sources said that a partygoer had told police that he and Miss Stewart had taken the substance.

The man has been interviewed under caution but not arrested. It is not an offense to take the drug or to distribute it.

GBL — gamma-butyrolactone —  is converted in the stomach into the “date rape” drug GBH, which was banned in 2003. Doctors first gave warning about it in 2005.

In August, the British Government announced plans to ban it on the grounds that it “can lead to dependence, unconsciousness and even death by intoxication”.

But the ban was delayed and the drug is still legal and freely available on the Internet for as little as 50 pence for 2 milliliters.

Stewart’s mother, Maryon, a leading nutrionist, said she was “mortified” to learn of the delays in prohibiting the drug and said that it may take “my darling Hessie to die for somebody to take notice”.

“This is a disaster,” she said. “It’s just beyond belief that something like this could have happened to such a brilliant, caring, intelligent girl who had so much to offer the whole world, not just her family.

“I feel gutted. I feel cheated. I feel bitterly frustrated and angry that this has been allowed to happen.”

Stewart’s father, Dr Alan Stewart, a nutritional physician in Lewes, was sent a medical leaflet about the drug five days before his daughter died, but the rest of her family – sister Phoebe, 27 and brothers Chesney, 26, and Simeon, 17 — had never heard of it.

Stewart was studying molecular medicine and was in her second year at university.

Dr John Armstrong, head of the Biochemistry department at Sussex University, said: “She was an outstanding and talented student, on track to get a First Class Honours degree, and was preparing to apply to medical school.

“She also found time to act as a mentor for younger students.

“She was outgoing, charming and universally popular, and she will be greatly missed by many in the university community.”

Phoebe Stewart has set up a Facebook group called In Memory of Princess Hessie, after Stewart’s mother was inundated with messages of condolence.

More than 300 student friends have joined the group and left messages.

Stewart is believed to be the third person to have died in the past 12 months after taking GBL, which has been an increasingly popular drug on the party scene for the past five years.

Last August, the Government’s drugs advisers told the Home Office that the substance should be classified as a Class C drug.

But because it also has a use as an industrial solvent – in the plastics industry and as a nail polish remover – officials have been delayed in framing the legislation.

GBL is banned for personal use in the United States, Canada and Sweden.

A Home Office spokesman said that a ban on the drug was still under consideration.

He said: “We are currently looking at the legislative options for control, to target the problems of misuse of GBL, which has a number of legitimate uses. We will consult with the chemical industry and the wider public over the coming months on this issue.”

[Based on reports by The Daily Telegraph and The Argus.]

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