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Rough-sleeper film death 'natural'
A 26-year-old film-maker who was sleeping rough for a project on homelessness died from natural causes, a coroner said today.
Lee Halpin's unresponsive body was found by a homeless man he had befriended in a derelict house in the West End of Newcastle upon Tyne, where they had slept during a bitterly cold spell in April.
Mr Halpin was making a film on life on the streets and planned to sleep rough for a week.
An inquest in Newcastle found he died as a result of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome after a pathologist ruled out other causes.
Coroner Karen Dilks concluded that Mr Halpin, who was hoping to win an internship with Channel 4 as an investigative journalist, died from natural causes.
The day before he started making his rough-sleeping film, Mr Halpin recorded a poignant message as part of his application to Channel 4, and posted it on YouTube.
He said: "I am about to go and spend a week being homeless in the West End of Newcastle.
"I will sleep rough for a week, scrounge for my food, access the services that other homeless individuals in the West End use.
"I will interact with as many homeless people as possible and immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can.
"I hope that you perceive this to be a fearless approach to a story.
"It certainly feels brave from where I am sat right now, about to embark on this documentary tomorrow morning.
"It has certainly caused a huge amount of trepidation among my family and friends who do think it is a brave thing to do.
"That's the impression I want to leave you with about my willingness to get to the heart of a story."
The inquest at Newcastle Civic Centre heard that Mr Halpin spent one night sleeping near a city centre roundabout, and was then invited by a homeless man called Daniel McEwan to spend the next night in a derelict property in Westgate Road.
The next morning, Mr McEwan found he was cold and unresponsive and raised the alarm.
Detective Sergent Nick Walker, who investigated Mr Halpin's death, said the derelict building had no heating and it was so cold he could see his breath when he went inside.
Mr Halpin had been to a city centre pub the night before and drank alcohol, but was not drunk and consumed far less than a lethal amount, the inquest heard.
The only drugs found in his system were anti-depressants he was prescribed following the break-up of a relationship.
DS Walker told the coroner that Mr Halpin was apparently healthy, but had placed himself in an unfamiliar situation, undertaking "a hard lifestyle at the time when the UK was experiencing particularly cold weather".
But he did not die from hypothermia, Dr Gemma Kemp, a specialist registrar in forensic pathology, said. She also ruled out any third party involvement in his death.
After telling the coroner that Mr Halpin died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, where his heart stopped despite not having any obvious disease, she added: "This is a diagnosis of exclusion. You have to rule out everything else."
Dr Mary Sheppard, a national heart expert from the Royal Brompton Hospital, looked at the case and agreed with Dr Kemp's findings.
The coroner said Dr Mary Shepherd advised: "This could have occurred at any time or place. The circumstances in which Lee was living played no part, in her opinion."
Mr Halpin's parents and brother attended the inquest, along with some of his friends.
Paddy Richardson, 22, from Newcastle, said after the hearing: "Lee was a canny wordsmith, a pleasure to know, a keen socialist and a great friend.
"Lots of people are really going to miss him."