Death by misadventure verdict in inquest into death of David Hockney’s assistant Dominic Elliott
An inquest into the death of Dominic Elliott, who died after drinking drain cleaner at David Hockney’s home in Bridlington, has recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.
Mr Elliott, 23, died in the early hours of March 17 this year of acute chemical peritonitis and a perforated stomach from drinking 95% concentrated sulhpuric acid, after two nights spent with Mr Hockney’s former partner, John Fitzherbert, where he drank beer and took cocaine, ecstasy and tamazepam.
At the inquest at Hull Coroners Court, which concluded today (Friday August 30), coroner Professor Paul Marks said that although Dominic had not been himself in the days before his death, and had spoken about suicide “in general conversation” with Mr Fitzherbert, he had not intended to take his own life.
He said there were no suspicious circumstances or any third party involvement in the death.
The verdict of misadventure was given as Professor Marks believes Dominic took the substances he did in the expectation that there was a risk involved. It was possible, said Professor Marks, that the drugs Mr Elliott had taken lessened the pain he would have felt when the acid burned his lips, mouth and stomach.
The inquest today heard evidence from Jean Pierre Goncalves De Lima, a man who, as David Hockney’s chief assistant, had a close working relationship with Dominic.
He said that he was aware that drugs were used in Mr Hockney’s house “occasionally”, but was unaware Dominic was at the property on Kingston Road in the days leading up to his death.
He said that he had received a phone call from Mr Fitzherbert on Sunday morning informing him of Dominic’s death, and asking him to “clean up” drugs from Mr Fitzherbert’s room at Hockney’s house “to shield David from scandal”.
Mr Goncalves De Lima said: “I cleared up the drugs. When the police came I told them that I had made a mistake.”
He described Dominic as “a highly bright” young man, and said that the pair enjoyed a good working relationship but did not mix socially. However, he said he was aware that Dominic gambled, and could become agressive in drink and have a “Jekyll and Hyde” character.
Mr Goncalves De Lima told the inquest that in 2010, he had “had a breakdown” and complained to Mr Hockney about Dominic turning up for work under the influence of alcohol.
He said: “I had a breakdown and I did not work for two months. When Dominic Elliott started work for me in 2010 the first few months were not satisfactory for me because he was drunk and I said ‘stop this nonsense’ and that it was unprofessional to turn up drunk.”
When asked if he had mentioned to Mr Hockney his knowledge of occasional drug use at the Kingston Road house, he said “no, I did not mention drugs”.
The coroner acknowledged that as Mr Hockney is “99% deaf”, and was recovering form a mini stroke he suffered in October 2012, he had no knowledge of what was going on in his house as he slept on the night of Dominic’s death.
Mr De Lima also told the court that there was “a bit of competitiveness” over the attention of John Fitzherbert, 48, between Dominic and Mark Shephard.
Shephard, a close friend of Dominic’s who had given evidence yesterday, had travelled to London with Mr Fitzherbert the week before Dominic’s death.
Mr Goncalves De Lima said: “They both wanted to ingratiate themselves with John for gifts. Designer clothes, cars. He had bought Mark a Land Rover. They were serious significant items. John was very generous when giving out gifts.”
The inquest heard yesterday that Dominic and Mr Fitzherbert - Hockney’s partner of 20 years - had met at a family barbecue, which had led to him coming to work for Mr Hockney.
They later entered into a nine month relationship before Dominic moved to York for university, and regularly saw each other when he returned to Bridlington after a year.
Dominic had been drinking and smoking cannabis with Mr Fitzherbert after arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning before the tragedy. He was also found with traces of cocaine, ecstasy and tamazepam in his system.
The pair had retired to bed in Fitzherbert’s room at Hockney’s house, where Mr Goncalves De Lima also has a room, at around noon on Saturday.
They heard Mr Hockney and Mr Goncalves De Lima leave the house to go drawing at Woldgate, at which point Mr Elliott leapt out of bad “laughing hysterically” before running out of the room and jumping head first from an internal balcony, to the ground floor around nine feet below.
Mr Fitzherbert said that Dominic did not show any major injury, and he got him back into bed.
Later that night, the inquest heard that Dominic woke Mr Fitzherbert at around 4am and asked him to take him to hospital.
He saw that Dominic had vomited a brown/black substance, and helped him clean himself up with a wet flannel, noticing an open bottle of Knock Out in the bathroom sink.
Dominic got dressed and the pair got into a Land Rover Discovery heading for Scarborough Hospital, while Mr Hockney slept in his first floor bedroom.
The inquest heard that although Mr Elliott was speaking when he got into the car to drive to Scarborough Hospital, he had lost consciousness during the journey. Attempts to resuscitate him at Scarborough Hospital failed and he was pronounced dead at around 5.38am.
During today’s evidence, it was revealed that Mr Fitzherbert had went missing from the Kingston Road address days after Dominic’s death.
Mr Fitzherbert’s solicitor had contacted police saying he had gone missing overnight on March, causing concern for police as he had left his mobile phone, wallet, ring and an empty packet of tablets in his room.
He seen by a member of the public at Danes Dyke and taken to Scarborough Hospital. He was later admitted as a voluntary patient at the Priory Hospital, in London.