Father tells inquest of drug concerns at festivals after son’s ecstasy death

David Celino died after taking the drug at Leeds Festival in August last year.

The father of a 16-year-old boy who died after taking ecstasy at a music festival has told an inquest: “The ticket that signals the death of another young person has already been sold.”

David Celino died after he was taken ill at Leeds Festival in August last year after taking the drug, a hearing at Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard on Tuesday.

His father Gianpiero Celino told the inquest about the concerns he has for 16 and 17-year-olds at music festivals, where he claimed they are left as prey to drug dealers who see them like “the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

He told the inquest: “The ticket that could signal the death of another young person has already been sold.

“It’s out there somewhere. It’s just not been cashed.”

Pharmacist Mr Celino, from Worsley, Salford, Greater Manchester, told the inquest he drove his son to the festival at Bramham Park, near Leeds, which he attended with a group of six friends as they celebrated their GCSE results.

He said he believed the organisers did not do enough to stop drug dealing at the site which, he said, took place openly.

Mr Celino said: “We think there’s a problem with the availability and provision of drugs at the site.

“We believe that, as it’s currently run, the festival can’t be safe for 16 or 17-year-olds who attend unaccompanied.”

He said the organisers talk about the measures they put in place to combat drug dealing and keep people safe “but it doesn’t work and David’s death is evidence of that”, Mr Celino said.

He described their reassurances as “theatre rather than facts”.

Mr Celino told the inquest how he and his wife had stayed in a hotel near the festival site because he was concerned David had not been at an event like it before and could decide he did not like camping.

He told the coroner he had paid hundreds of pounds for all six boys in David’s group to stay at the Camping Plus section of the site, which offered enhanced facilities and security.

Mr Celino described how he and his wife arrived at St James’s Hospital in Leeds before the ambulance, after hearing David had been taken ill and suffered a cardiac arrest in the medical centre at the festival.

He told the coroner he believed there needed to be greater search and surveillance activity at the site, and that policing was too “arm’s length”.

Mr Celino said this meant drug dealers could operate without fear of arrest.

He said under-18s were particularly vulnerable as, given the restrictions on alcohol sales were tightly observed, they were often looking for drugs instead.

Mr Celino, who said he has a background in implementing safety systems, said he was also concerned about medical provision at the site.

He said that given ecstasy overdose was clearly the most likely cause of death for young people at the site, there should be similar provision for rapidly cooling patients as there is in a hospital.

Leeds Festival 2022
David Celino died during Leeds Festival 2022 at Bramham Park in Leeds (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Celino told the inquest: “Why are we talking about X-ray machines in the medical facility when we should be talking about ice baths?”

He said David was clearly suffering from the effects of ecstasy in a selfie-video his son took of himself, telling senior coroner Kevin McLoughlin “he was not a well boy”.

Another of the boys in the group, who cannot be named, told the court how he believed David had taken ecstasy once before and had experimented with cannabis.

He said David first took half-tablet of ecstasy on the night they arrived at the site – the Thursday before David died on Saturday August 27, 2022 – and had brought that pill in with him.

The teenager told the inquest how the group later bought five tablets from a dealer camping near them for £50.

He said one of the group did not take any of the drugs, four of them took half a pill each but David took more, saying he needed to take more for it to have an effect as he had taken the tablet on the Thursday.

The teenager said he was not searched as he entered the site.

Detective Inspector Michael Herbert, of West Yorkshire Police, was asked by the coroner whether it was right that 29 arrests were made for drugs offences in 2022 with no prosecutions.

The coroner asked whether it would be a deterrent if everyone found selling drugs at the festival was prosecuted rather than evicted.

Mr Herbert explained how it was very difficult to separate out genuine drugs dealers from people sharing drugs socially.

He insisted dealers would be prosecuted but said: “It’s not the intention to criminalise young people who are going to an event to enjoy themselves.”

The coroner said: “That’s difficult to explain to a family who have lost their son.”

The detective said: “There are so many individuals who are in possession of drugs. We can’t possibly arrest our way out of the issue.”

Mr Herbert confirmed no one had been arrested in connection with the ecstasy David’s group bought.

The Leeds Festival, which attracts more than 100,000 people every year over the weekend, is run by Festival Republic.

The organisation’s managing director Melvyn Benn attended the inquest on Tuesday and will give evidence on Wednesday.

Paul Greaney KC, representing Festival Republic, said Mr Benn had heard all of Mr Celino’s concerns.

Mr Greaney said: “I know that he will do his best when he gives evidence tomorrow to address the concerns.”

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