Four men who lied about the death of their friend who collapsed after overdosing on ecstasy during a lads’ weekend at the Warehouse Project walked free from court today.
Tragic Nick Bonnie, 30, was found slumped in the courtyard of the Warehouse Project in Manchester after taking the party drug as well as MDMA and cocaine.
The Prince’s Trust manager, of Stroud, Gloucestershire, was rushed to hospital after he was initially suspected to have consumed a ‘bad batch’ on September 27 last year, but Mr Bonnie never recovered and was pronounced dead the following morning.
Four of his friends, also of Stroud, eventually admitted charges relating to his death and were sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court.
The case was prolonged after the men initially grouped together to lie about where they had obtained the drugs – something that provoked an angry reaction from Mr Bonnie’s mother in court.
The group told investigators that the drugs were all purchased inside the nightclub.
However, later analysis of Mr Bonnie’s phone showed the group chatting over instant messaging service WhatsApp in the weeks leading up to their trip to Manchester discussing their excitement at visiting Warehouse Project and consuming drugs.
It was agreed between the men that James Churchill, 31, would purchase drugs for the group.
Churchill, a gym owner, admitted three charges of supplying controlled Class A drug MDMA, three counts of supplying cocaine and a charge of perverting the course of justice.
He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 18 months and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.
Paul Tabb, 31, and dad-of-one Dan Neale, 30, admitted possession of MDMA, possession of cocaine and perverting the course of justice by providing a false witness statement.
They were sentenced to eight months, suspended for 18 months and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.
Construction site engineer Simon Lloyd-Jones, 29, also admitted perverting the course of justice but was not charged with any drugs offences after it was made clear through the WhatsApp messages that he did not consume or supply any substances at any stage.
He was sentenced to eight months, suspended for 18 months, as well as 250 hours of unpaid work.
All four men were also told to pay prosecution costs of £220 each by Judge Jeffrey Lewis who slammed the ‘fashionable’ world of recreational drug use.
Mr Bonnie had worked for the Prince’s Trust – Prince Charles’ young persons’ charity – for eight years and had even attended one of the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace.
The friends had all travelled from Gloucestershire to the popular Warehouse Project nightclub for the Friday evening, snorting cocaine on the drive north as well as in their accommodation near Media City in Salford.
Prosecuting, Robert Hall said: “In the days that ran up to September 27 there was a lot of contact between all five men on WhatsApp and that contact was recovered from Mr Bonnie’s phone.
“The content of those messages demonstrated clear excitement between the five, not only about their planned trip but also anticipating taking illegal controlled drugs while they attended.
“There is reference made within the messages to MDMA, cocaine and ketamine. In the end James Churchill became the person responsible for sourcing cocaine and ecstasy for the group.”
The group made their way to the Warehouse Project with further ecstasy they planned to take and danced together, but after a while they lost Mr Bonnie.
Mr Hall added: “They assumed all was well. In actual fact, in the early hours of Saturday morning Mr Bonnie was found in the courtyard area by security staff and by that point in time he was unresponsive to them.
“An ambulance was called and he was taken to the Manchester Royal Infirmary but unfortunately at that location shortly before 5am he suffered a significant cardiac arrest and couldn’t be resuscitated.
“A post-mortem revealed that he was an otherwise healthy man but died as a result of an excessive consumption of ecstasy.”
The four friends were called from the hospital while Mr Bonnie was still in a serious condition.
Mr Hall said it was at this point they decided to say the drugs had been given to them inside the club.
“Sadly the effect of that agreed lie was to place suspicion on innocent parties who were in the night club that night to perpetuate the concern about the contamination of illegal drugs being supplied and also to prevent any investigation into the actual source of those controlled drugs,” Mr Hall added.
In court Mr Bonnie’s heartbroken mother Pauline, who works in drug rehabilitation, took to the witness box to read a prepared statement about the impact the loss of her son has had and the added pain created by the lies of the men.
She said: “In the early hours we were told our beloved, beautiful son, brother and partner had died. Since this day a part of us all has died and our lives will never be the same without Nick.
“Over 1,000 people attended his funeral to pay their respects, travelling from all over the UK, Asia, America and Australia. Every day was and still is a reminder that he is gone.
“We all feel cheated in not being able to see him marry his partner Leah, have children and have a bright future at the Prince’s Trust.
“There is still such sadness among family and friends as they struggle to come to terms with his death.”
Fund-raising in Mr Bonnie’s name for the Prince’s Trust has reached more than £14,000 in the year since his death, she added.
“The lies these men have told have caused emotional anguish and unnecessary stress,” she said. “It will be more than 12 months since his death before the inquest is now heard.
“As family we will never come to terms with the loss, our grief and loss at what could and what should have been a future.
“Every day feels like a mountain to climb, we are a broken family and will never get over this. Our lives have changed forever and we have lost our sparkle until the day we all leave this world.”
Lloyd Jenkins, on behalf of Neale, an operations manager for a manufacturing firm, said: “It is a devastatingly tragic and sad case – every parent’s worst nightmare.
“A small group of adult friends planned a social weekend away which resulted in the tragic loss of one of their number.
“To put this case into context we are dealing with five consenting adult friends who had arranged to have a lads weekend. Nobody was under pressure to take drugs.
“The agreed destination was Warehouse Project and the plan was simple – to have a good time. Unfortunately for four of the group controlled drugs were always going to factor.”
Sarah Johnston, representing businessman Tabb, said: “We must ensure the appropriate message flows. That is that Class A drugs are lethal and can kill.
“It is Class A drugs that killed Mr Bonnie and three men in the dock are lucky to be standing where they are.
“It is known by all authorities that Class A drugs are consumed in places like the Warehouse Project and at some quantity. Class A drugs here are the demons and not necessarily the four men in the dock who have paid some price in the loss of their friend.”
Delroy Henry, on behalf of Churchill, said his client ‘is a man of exemplary good character’, pointing to his charity work for the British Heart Foundation and Comic Relief.
Representing Lloyd-Jones, David Maunder said: “He is seen as a decent, honest, hard-working and above all loyal friend, relation and colleague.
“He was crushed by the death of Mr Bonnie and the events that caused him to be before the court. He was the only one not taking drugs that evening. Not a matter of chance – he was not a drug user. He was the voice of calm and reason. He was there for the music and companionship.
“He was peripheral to the whole enterprise. The real punishment is carrying the weight of the events with him for the rest of his days. “
Sentencing the men, Judge Jeffrey Lewis condemned the use of Class A drugs as he noted the men should be spared immediate prison because of the tragedy of the case, their excellent work records and genuine remorse.
“Activity of this kind is sometimes described as recreational use of drugs as if some activity was acceptable or legitimate. It is neither acceptable or legitimate, it is criminal,” he said. “However we all know that it is fashionable and not uncommon among young people.
“Your culpability for the death of Mr Bonnie was that you were party to promoting the supply of illegal drugs and sadly, although it is hard to say so, equally to his own culpability as a willing participant.
“You all joined together to deliberately avoid the truth. More significant is that none of you in the cold light of day took steps to reverse the decision not to tell the truth. As has been said – the die was cast and you all left it at that.
“Maybe the motive was to protect Mr Churchill. It may be the reason for not telling the truth was to protect the family of Nick Bonnie from the uncomfortable knowledge that he was someone who from time to time took illegal drugs.
“But the fact remains that the foundations of the investigation were damaged from the outset by your deceit. When truth should have been a premium, each of you chose to conceal it.”
Story via Cavendish Press.
Image courtesy of Facebook, with thanks.