Family links suicide to controversial drug

THE devastated family of a Fylde man who committed suicide by setting his car alight have blamed his death on a stop-smoking drug.

Howard Venables, from St Annes, was found slumped in the front seat of his burning car at traffic lights on Squires Gate Lane, South Shore.

The 55-year-old, of Clifton Drive North, had been taking Champix, which helps reduce nicotine cravings, on and off before he died.

His daughter, Jamie Donnelly, has today vowed to raise awareness of the effects of the drug after claiming her father became more emotional, suffered bad dreams and had trouble sleeping after he started taking the tablets.


She said: “For my dad to do this, it wasn’t him. He’d been through ups and downs in his life but he was at a point in his life when he was happy.

“He was trying to give up smoking. He was taking Champix and I noticed a difference with his emotions. He told me he was struggling sleeping and had nightmares.

“I really believe he did not know what he was doing. He must have had a blackout.”

A verdict of suicide was recorded after an inquest heard how Mr Venables left his flat in an upset state after packing a bag and leaving a note. Mr Venables sent a “goodbye text” to his partner and posted a birthday card through his daughter’s door.

He was found in the blazing blue Rover 400 outside the Air Balloon pub at around 4.30am on July 10 last year. A post mortem revealed he died from smoke inhalation.

Fire investigation officers believe accelerant, possibly petrol, was set alight in the car.

Watch manager Steve Green, a Lancashire Fire and Rescue incident intelligence officer, said it was highly unlikely the fire was caused by electrical issues as there was no damage to wiring in the engine.

He added: “The fire in the passenger compartment was very severe and there were traces of accelerant on the rear seat.

“With the windows and doors closed, the fire would have initially flared up and burned steadily, producing heavy black smoke. I believe it is unlikely anyone in this vehicle would have survived.”

Just a month before Mr Venables died, hotel waiter Andrew Freeman, hanged himself after taking Champix. He had complained the drug had made him feel strange and given him bad dreams.

The 26-year-old was discovered hanged at the home he shared in Bispham with fiancee Sarah Bradshaw on June 4.

Miss Bradshaw today backed calls for the drug to be banned.

She said: “These tablets are the common link. Something needs to be done. They should be banned.”

A petition calling for the drug to be outlawed has been set up by Mr Freeman’s family.

Blackpool coroner Anne Hind also said she would be sending a report to the Medicine and Health Care Regulatory Agency and Pfizer, the manufacturer.

She added: “A positive link has not been made but doctors know that if patients have history of mental health problems, not to even think about prescribing Champix.”

A Pfizer spokesman said: “In January 2009, the European Medicines Agency concluded a thorough review of Champix with a specific focus on suicide-related events, which have been reported in some patients taking Champix and noted the current evidence does not support a causal link between the use in smoking cessation and the occurrence of suicide-related events or other depressive disorders. EMEA noted that smoking and smoking cessation are independently linked to depressive symptoms and depression.”