1 November 1977 (
Paul Betts, Dorothy May Betts
16 November 1995 (aged 18) Great Burstead, England, UK
Rachel Whitear, Anna Wood (born 1980), Debbie Linden
Leah Sarah Betts (1 November 1977 – 16 November 1995) was a schoolgirl from Latchingdon in Essex, England. She is notable for the extensive media coverage that followed her death shortly after her 18th birthday. On 11 November, she took an ecstasy (MDMA) tablet, and then drank approximately 7 litres of water in a 90-minute period. Four hours later, she collapsed into a coma, from which she did not recover.
- Death Of Leah Betts
- Initial press and public reaction
- Death and inquest
- Police response
- Subsequent events
Death Of Leah Betts
Initial press and public reaction
The press reported that Betts' death was an example of the dangers of illegal drugs in general, and ecstasy in particular.
Her mother, Dorothy May Betts, had died of a heart attack in 1992 at age 45. She lived with her father Paul Betts (a former police officer), her stepmother (a nurse), and her brother William, who was born seven years after her.
The fact that her life reflected so many other middle-class families in Britain likely contributed to the sense of shock around the country after her death. It was suggested that the pill she had taken was from a "contaminated batch". Not long afterward, a 1,500-site poster campaign used a photograph of a smiling Leah Betts (not a picture of her on her deathbed, as some sources erroneously claim) with the caption "Sorted: Just one ecstasy tablet took Leah Betts".
Alternative rock band Chumbawamba responded with their own 'anti-poster' reading "Distorted: you are just as likely to die from eating a bay leaf as from an ecstasy tablet".
Death and inquest
Betts died on the morning of 16 November 1995, within five days of being admitted to hospital, after her life support machine was switched off. Her funeral took place on 1 December 1995 at Christ Church, Latchingdon. She was buried alongside her mother at St Mary Magdalen church in Great Burstead, Essex.
A subsequent inquest determined that her death was actually not directly due to the consumption of ecstasy, but rather the result of the large quantity of water she had consumed, apparently in observation of an advisory warning commonly given to ravers to drink water to avoid dehydration resulting from the exertion of dancing continuously for hours. Leah had been at home with friends and had not been dancing, yet consumed about 7 litres (12 pints) of water in less than 90 minutes, resulting in water intoxication and hyponatremia, which in turn led to serious swelling of the brain, irreparably damaging it.
However, the ecstasy tablet may have reduced her ability to urinate, exacerbating her hyponatremia; a symptom known as SIADH. At the inquest it was stated by toxicologist John Henry, who had previously warned the public of the danger of MDMA causing death by dehydration, "If Leah had taken the drug alone she might well have survived. If she had drunk the amount of water alone she would have survived."
Essex Police assigned 35 officers and huge resources to track the suppliers of the tablet Betts had taken, but after an investigation that cost £300,000, the only people charged were four of her friends who had been present at the house, two of whom accepted police cautions with the other two prosecuted. Of these, one received a conditional discharge, while the other was acquitted after a retrial.
After her death, the media focused on the putative fact that it was the first time she had taken the drug. It arose later — though it was much less publicised — that she had taken the drug at least three times previously. Her father, Paul, subsequently became a vocal public campaigner against drug abuse. He and his wife were present at the press conference at which Barry Legg MP launched his Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill, which allowed councils to close down licensed venues if the police "believed" controlled drugs were being used "at or near" the premises.
It was reported that the £1m Sorted posters campaign was the pro-bono work of three advertising companies: Booth Lockett and Makin (media buyers), Knight Leech and Delaney (advertising agency), and FFI (youth marketing consultants). Booth Lockett and Makin counted brewers Löwenbräu as one of its major clients, at a time when the alcohol industry saw increasing MDMA use as a threat to profits. The other two companies represented energy drink Red Bull, a professional relationship that had earned Knight Leech and Delaney £5 million and was described by one of FFI's executives who remarked that, "We do PR for Red Bull for example and we do a lot of clubs. It's very popular at the moment because it's a substitute for taking ecstasy."
Ties have been reported between Betts' death and the December 1995 murder of three alleged drug dealers, in Rettendon, an event dubbed the "Range Rover murders".