Coroner rules former FC Halifax Town striker James Dean drowned in tragic accident

A former FC Halifax Town professional footballer drowned in a stream in a 'tragic accident' after entering woodland in a 'paranoid state' after being reported missing, an inquest heard.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 1:19 pm

Ex-Halifax Town striker James Dean, 35, was reported missing by his family on May 6 and tragically found three days later face-down in the water in a secluded woodland.

He had been struggling with his mental health for several months and would at times use cocaine to "suppress his demons", the inquest heard.

James, of Accrington, was last seen on CCTV running in a car park in Orchard Drive, Oswaldtwistle, just after 11pm on May 6.

Former FC Halifax Town striker James Dean

His family believe James saw a car go past and dived through small gap in a fence panel in a paranoid state.

This led into the woodland area with the stream where he was found on the afternoon of May 9, just yards from where he had been captured on CCTV days before.

Police think he died shortly after he entered the wooded area on the night of his disappearance.

Detective Inspector Tracey McMurdo, of Lancashire Police, said that there was no evidence to suggest he had taken his own life.

Officers searching for James concentrated on well-known waterways as the family had said when he had taken cocaine he would use water to cool himself down.

The spot where James was found was unknown to the police so it wasn't searched for a number of days.

Detective Inspector McMurdo said she was assigned to the missing person case on May 7 and James was classified as a 'high risk' due to his mental health struggles.

She said: "James was so well known in Accrington. As soon as people knew he was missing there was so much help from the local community.

"People were sharing on social media and creating search parties."

James was referred to mental health services at Royal Blackburn Hospital in June 2020 after taking cocaine and saying he did 'not want to be here anymore', it was heard.

He was referred by police a second time in September 2020 after his mother, Margaret Dean, had called concerned about him as he was having a mental health episode.

Margaret told the inquest: "He sometimes used cocaine to suppress the demons in his head."

The Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust mental health team tried to call James on his mobile and landline on Saturday, October 3, 2020, but had no luck, it was heard.

They then sent him a letter asking whether he wanted help from the service but never received a response.

The family said James seemed to be doing well with his mental health in the days before he went missing.

He laughing and joking with them and using work and the gym to control his mood, it was heard.

Consultant radiologist Dr Simon Beardmore took a CT scan of James, which showed evidence of death by drowning.

A toxicology report showed evidence of cocaine use 'very close to death' which could have affected James' heart and brain functions, the inquest heard.

Coroner Richard Taylor said he believed that James' death was a 'tragic accident' and returned a conclusion of accidental death.

Mr Taylor said: "He has entered the area that was unknown to him. Somehow, he has gone into the water.

"It's likely he has slipped and fallen into the water while under the influence of cocaine."

The 6ft 3ins striker played for a number of non-league clubs in his career and scored 70 goals in 128 games during three years at Halifax Town, where he was a fans' favourite.

Former teammates today paid tributes on social media with ex-Shaymen captain Danny Lowe saying: "I'm absolutely devastated to hear about my former teammate, friend Deano.

"Goal machine and nightmare on the pitch but a big gentle giant off it.

"Big heart big smile and left a positive impression on everyone, you will be missed but never forgotten. Rest easy brother."

He was described by heartbroken relatives as a "genuine and gentle person" who would "go out of his way to help anyone who needed it".

In a tribute issued after his death, his heartbroken family said: "As a family we are utterly heartbroken and we can't believe our James has really gone.

"We are still hoping he will walk back through the door and give us one of his smiles.

"James was a loving father to his boys, a son, grandson, nephew and a brother and he will be desperately missed by so many.

"He was such a genuine and gentle person who would go out of his way to help anyone who needed it."