RACHEL WHITEAR, the 21-year-old student whose corpse was shown in a government anti-drug campaign, was killed by her jilted boyfriend, according to court documents.
Luke Fitzgerald is alleged to have administered a fatal dose of heroin and then attempted to “clean up the scene”, say documents submitted to the High Court in London.
Detectives reinvestigating her death have obtained statements from witnesses saying that Fitzgerald, a heroin addict, had been with Whitear when she died in a Devon bedsit. One witness said Fitzgerald had “confessed” to fatally injecting Whitear, who was previously assumed to have accidentally overdosed herself.
The High Court ruled this month that a fresh inquest into Whitear’s death must be heard, probably next year. The judges were told that the evidence is of “such significance” that it should be put before a coroner’s court.
The court documents also claim that officials connected with the first inquest, held seven months after her death in May 2000, failed to investigate it properly because they did not want to devote the necessary money and time, and were wary of the possible HIV risk attached to her body. The evidence suggests that, as an apparently drug-related fatality, Whitear was treated as a “second-class citizen” by the officials.
Whitear, a university student who became hooked on heroin after meeting Fitzgerald as a teenager, had split with him the day before her death, moving out of their shared flat in Exmouth and into a bedsit in the town.
She was found there three days later, her discoloured body in a crouching position on the floor clutching a syringe with the stopper inexplicably replaced on the end of the needle.
An inquest, however, was unable to give a cause of death and recorded an open verdict.
Toxicology tests showed that her blood contained a level of heroin too low to have been fatal and the coroner Richard Van Oppen reportedly said he was “certain” she had not died of an overdose.
Whitear’s mother and stepfather, Pauline and Michael Holcroft, nevertheless agreed to allow their daughter’s life story, and the shocking last image of her, to be made into a government-backed video to warn schoolchildren of the dangers of drug use.
Only when the coroner’s verdict was highlighted in the media in 2003, together with details showing that Fitzgerald had lied to police about his contact with her the day she died, were Wiltshire police ordered to reinvestigate the case by the Independent Police Complaints Authority.
Fitzgerald, 31, who has a conviction for assault, had initially told Devon and Cornwall police in 2000 that he had last seen Whitear the day before she died, when the couple argued on the beach about money he claimed she owed. Only when police interviewed Fitzgerald a second time, after the inconclusive toxicology tests, did he admit getting money from her on the morning she died. He insisted, however, that he had never been to her new address.
Three months into the 2003 reinvestigation Fitzgerald was arrested by Wiltshire detectives on suspicion of Whitear’s manslaughter, but was later released. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against anyone in connection with the death. However, the court documents containing evidence compiled by Chief Superintendent Paul Howlett of Wiltshire police, and submitted to the High Court this month in a successful attempt to force a new inquest, show that the reinvestigation obtained significant evidence suggesting that Fitzgerald was indeed present when his former girlfriend died.
The court submission states that among the new evidence is “the existence of a witness who had a conversation with Rachel’s boyfriend in which he confessed to having injected Rachel and thereafter returned to her house to clean up the scene”. It adds that there is also “the existence of another witness who had spoken to Rachel’s boyfriend and as a result had formed the view that he was present when Rachel died”.
The police obtained statements from two people who said that Whitear’s landlord, Darren Tynan, had told them that he had heard someone “leave the house during the period relevant to Rachel’s death”. Tynan denied having said this when questioned by the police, although he did state that a packet of tobacco had gone missing on the afternoon she died.