Sophie Gradon took her own life by hanging after taking cocaine and and enough alcohol to put her two-and-a-half times over the legal driving limit, an inquest into the Love Island star’s death has ruled.
There was no third-party involvement.
The 32-year-old reality star was found dead at her parents’ home in Medburn, Ponteland, on June 20, 2018.
She was found hanging in the living room by her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong and his brother Ryan, who had driven to her house after growing concerned at Sophie’s lack of social media activity.
Ryan called 999 while desperate Aaron attempted CPR on Sophie for 15 minutes, even though she was cold and her arms had turned blue.
A post-mortem examination established she had 201mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood – around two and a half times the drink drive limit – and 0.4mg of cocaine per litre of blood, along with anti-depressant Sertraline which she had taken since 2013.
The coroner’s court heard how Sophie and her boyfriend had been exchanging texts the day before that were “very general and loving in nature”.
These went on until after 2am, but when she failed to respond to his messages after 11am on June 20, worried Aaron and Ryan decided to pay her a visit.
North Shields Coroners Court heard she had expressed suicidal thoughts shortly before being found dead and had been texting a male friend into the early hours of June 20 discussing how she was “struggling with the world”.
Det Sgt Neill Jobling of Northumbria Police told the hearing that Sophie had said she “cannot do this any more” and “I’ve been to the end and back again”.
In another message sent at 01:44 she told her friend: “I would never want to do that to my family but if I could escape I would.”
The court heard how Sophie had been diagnosed with depression and low self-esteem in 2013 and was taking medication for social anxiety disorder at the time she died. She was also still reeling from the death of her friend Paul ‘Conrad’ Burns, better known as Mr Newcastle, whose funeral she had attended five days previously.
“They spoke about his death and she told Sonny that Paul Burns had been there for so many people,” said Det Sgt Jobling.
“She later sent him a message saying she could not figure out life, but she was trying to, and told him, ‘don’t tell anybody about this, never judge but always be there to give love and help’.
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“She added ‘I can’t do this any more’ and told him: “I struggle with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) every day.
“She then said: ‘I would never want to do this to my family but if I could escape, I would.’
“She also told him: ‘I have been struggling with the world, no one knows why or how.'”
By 2.40am on the morning of the day she died, her speech was slurred, and she was ‘repeating herself’ when they spoke.
“His perception was that she had been drinking, and was feeling emotional,” added Det Sgt Jobling.
Their conversation ended suddenly, and he thought she had dropped the phone.He sent messages but went to bed when he received no response.
He described Sophie as being ‘in the public eye’ and a high profile figure due to her appearance on TV.
“She had a relationship with Aaron Armstrong after meeting through mutual friends,” he said.
“They had had been staying at each other’s houses. When Sophie’s parents had left to go on holiday, he had gone back to his parents house to look after dogs.
“They spoke to each other through the day of June 19, and sent texts to each other which were very general and loving.”
At 11.06 on June 20, he texted ‘Morning baby’ but did not receive a response. Around 7pm he contacted his brother Ryan to ask him to go to Sophie’s address to check on her.
“He looked through the living room window and saw her on a chair. He forced entry into the lounge. He performed CPR but he quickly realised she was dead because she was cold and stiff and her arms had turned blue.”
Paramedics and police attended, but no note from Sophie was found. She was identified by a relative next day.
Her last contact with Aaron had been at around 3am by text on the day of her death.
The coroner expressed his sympathy for Sophie’s parents Deborah and Colin, who did not attend the hearing, and “all those who loved her”.
Tragically, heartbroken Aaron was found hanged just 20 days after she died, having taken a similar cocktail of cocaine and booze .
His bereft mum, Donna Armstrong, said that while his and Sophie’s relationship was still in its early days, it was “very intense and emotional”.
“Initially he was a bit coy, but it became clear that the relationship meant an awful lot to him,” she said in a statement.
At the time, Northumberland Police confirmed there was no suspicious activity surrounding her death and, after Aaron’s inquest returned a narrative verdict, clarified that he had had absolutely no involvement in Sophie’s passing.
Senior Coroner for Northumberland South, Eric Armstrong, ruled that Sophie had taken alcohol and cocaine before her death.
“There is a good deal of concern at the moment about the consequences of mixing alcohol and cocaine,” he said.
“The combination I am given to understand is used by those who believe it brings on a so called high quicker. But it is also thought to give rise to violent thoughts which can be directed against the self.
“Anyone who takes the combination of cocaine and alcohol is sixteen times more likely to suffer death by suicide according to research in America.
“If Sophie’s death is to serve any purpose, then I think that message should go out far and wide.”
The same coroner had published a similar warning at Aaron’s inquest, pointing out that research showed someone who took cocaine and alcohol together were 16 times more likely to die by suicide.
“His thinking was muddled by the distress of Sophie's death, the distress at having found her, with his brother,” he said during Aaron’s inquest.
“The consequence of taking alcohol and cocaine together prevented him from thinking rationally about his actions.”
News of Sophie’s death caused shockwaves in her hometown of Newcastle, where she was a popular personality thanks to her beauty pageant past and reality show fame.
Sophie had made history on Love Island 2016 as one half of the show’s first same-sex couple when she coupled up with Katie Salmon.
Before that, she’d been coupled up with barman Tom Powell, but their relationship was fraught with rows and they split up soon after leaving the villa.
Her bravery in standing up for fellow Islander Zara Holland after she was ‘slut-shamed’ for performing a sex act on camera won her yet more fans.
Sophie used her airtime to deliver a powerful speech condemning people who judge women for enjoying sex.
She had previously slammed Miss Great Britain – for which she was a finalist in 2010 – after she was banned from her final pageant over a row with organisers.
Sophie had been left £70 out of pocket after a train ticket fine, which she had incurred after boarding the wrong train.
Miss GB had criticised her “irresponsible behaviour” in a public statement.
Over on Facebook , Sophie fumed: “In my experience, Miss GB is full of false hope and false promises.
“It shouldn’t be speculated that girls will be given such opportunities until they actually happen.
“FYI Louise – we live in a modern democracy where freedom of speech is a treasured possession.”
Sophie’s death was met with heartache and shock by her fellow Love Islanders – especially as she had seemingly asked for help in a number of tweets and Facebook posts in the run-up to her death.
“I feel very deep tonight. Reflecting on life & what it means to live,” she tweeted five days before her death, after attending the funeral of one of her best friends, Paul ‘Conrad’ Burns – better known as Mr Newcastle – who had died after taking MDMA.
Sophie shared a touching tribute to Paul, thanking him for being there “when you recognised I needed someone”.
She captioned a grinning shot of her friend: “Today was all about you sweetheart. What an amazing send off for our Mr Newcastle Paul ‘Conrad’ Burns.
“Thank you for being there when you recognised I needed someone, you are a true saint. I only wish I had got to know you better. All my love and thoughts with your nearest and dearest.
“Vicky Pattison you made us laugh & cry all at the same time… #viviennewestwood Emma English you told us about his selflessness & the size of his heart Christiano & Andrew Shiel-Redfern you gave us insight into his love for his work & all his friends in this town Rosie Edge you gave us a collection of memories to treasure forever.
Sophie had also tweeted some reflective thoughts about Paul’s tragic death.
“I genuinely feel that when true & honest human souls get taken away from us, they are the ones who have found the meaning of life,” she wrote.
If you or someone you know is struggling with, there is help available. You can call The Samaritans at any time of the day or night on freephone 116 123, email [email protected] or visit the website to find your nearest branch.
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