Charlene Downes' brother Robert died of accidental drug overdose, court rules

The brother of 14-year-old Charlene Downes, who disappeared from Blackpool town centre in 2003, died of the deadly effects of a heroin overdose, an inquest has ruled.

Robert Downes, 30, was found dead in his bedroom at his family’s George Street home by his father, Robert Sr, at around midnight on December 4 2021.

Robert Sr said: "One leg was tucked under the other leg and he was laid out like he was crucified."

A post-mortem examination found fatally high levels of heroin in his system.

Robert and sister Rebecca

At his inquest at Blackpool town hall today, the court heard how, after finding their son dead, Robert Sr and mum Karen fell into a state of 'panic and anxiety', and did not call 999 until around three hours later, at 2.50am on December 5.

Karen, who had been sleeping downstairs in the property before her husband came home and discovered Robert's body, said: "He was shouting 'Karen, Karen, he's dead, he's dead'.

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Charlene Downes' brother Robert laid to rest after dying suddenly aged 30

"It was terrible, we didn't know what to do. We knew he was dead but we didn't want to believe it. But we knew he was gone. He was stiff. I just didn't want him taken away from me, but I knew they would have to. I just wanted him with me."

Dad Robert Sr, sister Rebecca and mum Karen outside coroners court

The day he died, Robert, a father of four, had left the family home with his father at 10.30am.

The pair visited the Man Bar on Dickson Road, before heading off to work as stewards at the Blackpool FC v Luton Town championship match at Bloomfield Road stadium.

However, it is believed Robert did not remain at the stadium for the duration of the match, as a man matching his description was caught on CCTV near his house at around 3pm.

He was last seen alive by his mother at around 6.30pm, when he entered the house with a friend and went upstairs to his bedroom, where he remained after the friend left around 30 minutes later.

Charlene Downes

Karen went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted up to her son to as if he was OK, to which he replied "I'm OK, I'm just going to get my head down."

She then fell asleep on the sofa, and only woke up when Robert Sr returned from a night out.

She told the court that she had no idea her son had been using heroin after apparently quitting the drug after being sent to prison in 2019.

"As far as we were aware, he was clean. He seemed absolutely fine," she said.

His ex-girlfriend Enya Cardwell said: "He had issues with heroin in the past, but since he left prison he really made an effort to be a better person, he got a job and went to the gym, and as far as I'm aware he had not taken any heroin for three years."

Handing down a conclusion of death by misadventure, coroner Alan Wilson said: "We are dealing with someone who has had a history of drug use, but recently has been avoiding heroin. We don't know why he decided to use heroin on this occasion, and maybe having made that decision he used the heroin in a similar quantity to what he used to, and hasn't taken into account that he has lost tolerance and might be more vulnerable to the toxic effects."

Following the conclusion, Robert Sr said losing his son felt 'like I've been stabbed with a blunt knife'.

He said: "There are no words. It's around you every day. When that's your reality, it hits home. Twice now we have been put down. All we have got to do now is bounce back, but how can you?"

Karen said: "Robert was never the same after what happened to Charlene. We never got justice. It had a massive impact on all of us.

"But he went to prison and got clean, and I never thought he would do anything like this again.

"He was a lovely, bubbly lad. He was kind. Anybody would tell you he would do anything for anybody.

"He had four beautiful children to live for, three of his own and one he took on as his own.

"He was gorgeous, he was funny, he used to make people laugh with his dry sense of humour.

"He was doing so well. That's why I was so shocked. All I can ask myself is why - why, why did this happen?"

An earlier version of this article described Enya Cardwell as Mr Downes girlfriend. In fact, she is his former partner and the mother of his children.