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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 12:21 GMT
Heroin victim's death used as warning
Scene of Rachel Whitear's death
Rachel Whitear's body as it was found in her flat
The parents of a 21-year-old student who died of a heroin overdose have released graphic pictures of her death to warn teenagers of the dangers of the drug.

Mick and Pauline Holcroft, of Ledbury, Herefordshire, have allowed pictures of their daughter Rachel Whitear to be used in an anti-drugs video for secondary schools.

They say they want to "make people think" about the dangers of the drug - and to challenge stereotypes about drug abusers.


Part of what this film gets over is how a person can hide their addiction

Pauline Holcroft
Mrs Holcroft, 52, said: "It's horrific to look at a photograph like that of your own daughter. We pray that this film will make a difference.

"It was a very difficult decision to release the photograph, but we thought that if we did so we would be using her body to help others.

The decision to release the pictures was praised by the parents of teenage ecstasy victim Leah Betts. But pressure group DrugScope suggested the photos would be of little use.

"If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone."

The 22-minute film, entitled Rachel's Story, shows how she began as a "beautiful and brilliant" girl who had 10 GCSEs and two A-levels, and excelled at the piano.

'Beautiful and brilliant'

Rachel's mother and stepfather believe she first took heroin when she was 18, after being introduced to it by an older boyfriend who was an addict.

At first she kept her habit under control, was accepted by five universities and went to read psychology and sociology at Bath University.

But her addiction continued, and her parents noticed her personality had changed from fun-loving and outgoing to unhappy, insecure and unreliable.

She dropped out of university after a term and went to live in Exmouth with her boyfriend.


No-one plans to be a junkie, no smoker plans to die of cancer.
John, UK

To read more of your comments, click here
She died of an overdose in rented rooms in the town in May 2000, aged 21, just days after phoning her parents to say she was leaving her boyfriend and coming home.

Her body lay undiscovered for three days.

The police photograph shows her body keeled over on the floor, with bruised and discoloured flesh and a hypodermic syringe in her hand.

Mike Denton, of Herefordshire LEA, said: "The photographs of Rachel after her death are pretty harrowing.

"But some of the most harrowing parts are watching the emotions on the faces of Rachel's mother and sister as they tell the story.

"If you were trying to put together an ideal background for a young person to grow up in and be happy and successful the Holcroft family would be it.

"Yet even in that environment it was possible for this tragedy to happen."

Experiment

Mrs Holcroft said: "I think Rachel really hated what had happened to her. But you can't take heroin one day and suddenly decide to stop.

"Part of what this film gets over is how a person can hide their addiction."

Mr Holcroft said: "There'll be a point in a child's life when someone says 'try that'. They'll be put into a circle where they are encouraged to try things and experiment."

The Department of Health-backed video is to be released to secondary schools in Herefordshire later this year.

Pauline and Mick Holcroft
Rachel's parents hope to stop others using heroin
The family hopes it will become a national educational resource.

Leah Betts' parents Paul and Janet told BBC News Online they admired the Holcrofts' courage in releasing the video.

Mr Betts said: "If you have just helped one young person you have been successful."

But Drugscope chief executive Roger Howard said: "There is little evidence that such shock tactics actually work in changing behaviour."

He said he hoped it could help change government policy, bringing more investment in treatment and initiatives on harm reduction.

"The government will not succeed in addressing this problem until it sees drug use more as a public health problem rather than just a criminal one," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"Rachel's parents are determined some good should come of their daughter's death"
Rachel's father Mick Holcroft
"To us those photographs are not that shocking"
Drugscope's Roger Howard
"The risk is teenagers may discount the message"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Drug death pictures
Do shock tactics work?
See also:

01 Mar 02 | Education
'Our decision over addict daughter'
01 Mar 02 | Education
Shock drugs lessons 'do not work'
14 Jan 02 | Education
Drug users not always expelled
06 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Heroin 'a benign drug', MPs told
06 Nov 01 | Health
Call to 'legalise' heroin
28 Mar 00 | Scotland
Leah parents reject drugs report
14 Oct 98 | Medical notes
Heroin: The facts
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