Leah Betts

Leah Betts

Leah Betts (November 11, 1977 - November 16, 1995) was a schoolgirl from Latchingdon in Essex, England. She is notable for the extensive media coverage and moral panic that followed her death several days after her 18th birthday, on November 11, during which she took an ecstasy tablet, then collapsed four hours later into a coma, from which she did not recover. Subsequently, it was discovered that water intoxication, rather than ecstasy, was the direct cause of her death.

Press reaction

The press was quick to report that Leah's death was an example of the dangers of illegal drugs in general, and ecstasy in particular. ["Altered State", Matthew Collin, 2nd edition 1998, ISBN 978-1852423773. page 300] Leah was from a quite ordinary family, with her father (an ex-police officer) and her stepmother (a nurse). The fact that her life reflected so many other middle class families in Britain may have contributed to the sense of shock around the country. It was suggested that the pill she had taken was from a "contaminated batch." [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/13/newsid_2516000/2516593.stm BBC On This Day, 13 Nov, 1995] ] Not long afterwards, a major 1,500-site poster campaign used a photograph of a smiling Leah Betts (not the picture of her on her deathbed, as some sources erroneously claim) with the caption "Sorted: Just one ecstasy tablet took Leah Betts". Critics of the anti-drug media have suggested that the reportings of Leah's death downplayed or ignored the fact that she had drunk too much water, reducing the awareness of the dangers of water intoxication and in turn leading to higher risks for those who would use ecstasy.

The inquest

An inquest determined that her death was actually not directly due to ecstasy consumption, but rather the large quantity of water she had consumed, apparently in observation of an advisory warning commonly given to ravers to drink water to avoid dehydration resulting from the exertion of dancing continuously for hours. Leah had been at home with friends and had not been dancing, yet consumed about 7 litres in less than 90 minutes, resulting in water intoxication and hyponatremia (low sodium levels; in this case due to the dilution of blood), which in turn led to serious swelling of the brain (cerebral oedema), irreparably damaging it. However, SIADH caused by the ecstasy left Betts unable to urinate which would have allowed expulsion of the excess water and prevented hyponatremia. At the inquest it was stated "If Leah had taken the drug alone she might well have survived. If she had drunk the amount of water alone she would have survived." [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4440438.stm BBC News: The legacy of tragic Leah] ]

Police response

Essex Police assigned 35 officers and huge resources to tracking the suppliers of the tablet Leah had taken, but after an estimated cost of £300,000, the only people charged were four of her friends who had been present at the house. Two of whom accepted Police cautions and the other two were prosecuted. Of these, one received a conditional discharge, while the other was acquitted after a retrial. ["Altered State", Matthew Collin, 2nd edition 1998, pages 302-303]

ubsequent events

The media onslaught after her death focused heavily on the putative fact that it was the first time she had taken the drug. ["Altered State", Matthew Collin, 2nd edition 1998, page 302] It arose later - though was much less publicised - that she had taken the drug at least three times previously. Her father, Paul, subsequently became a vocal public campaigner against drug abuse. He and his wife were present at the press conference at which Barry Legg MP launched his [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1997/1997049.htm Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Act] , which allowed councils to close down licensed venues if the police "believed" controlled drugs were being used "at or near" the premises. ["Altered State", Matthew Collin, 2nd edition 1998, page 309]

It later emerged that the "Sorted" posters had been the work of three advertising companies: Booth Lockett and Makin (media buyers), Knight Leech and Delaney (advertising agency), and FFI (youth marketing consultants), which split the cost of what would have been a £1 million campaign between themselves, yet it has been claimed that their motives were hardly altruistic. Booth Lockett and Makin counted brewers Löwenbräu as one of its major clients, at a time when the alcohol industry saw increasing ecstasy use as a threat to profits. The other two companies represented energy drink Red Bull, earning Knight Leech and Delaney £5 million, while one of FFI's executives remarked that, "We do PR for Red Bull for example and we do a lot of clubs. It's very popular at the moment because it's a substitute for taking ecstasy." ["Ecstasy Reconsidered", Nicholas Saunders, 1997, pages 25-26] ["Altered State", Matthew Collin, 2nd edition 1998, page 302]


ee also

* Anna Wood
* Recreational drug use
* War on drugs
* Overdose
* Responsible drug use

External links

* [http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1604610,00.html Her best friend talks to the Observer 10 years on]
* [http://thedea.org/hyponatremia.html TheDEA.org: Hyponatremia.] An account of Leah Betts's death with some discussion of the medical mechanisms of hyponatremia-induced brain death.

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