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Behind the inquest: the true story of my brother’s life and death

PUBLISHED: 12:54 19 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:25 20 July 2020

Paul Holland who died in December 2019 is remembered by his sister as the most generous and kind person who thought only of making others happy Picture: Kathryn Holland

Paul Holland who died in December 2019 is remembered by his sister as the most generous and kind person who thought only of making others happy Picture: Kathryn Holland

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It was just before Christmas when Kathryn Holland found her beloved brother dead at home.

More like twins than siblings - Kathryn and Paul Holland during their early years in Leeds. Paul died in December 2019, but an inquest only told a fraction of his story his sister says Picture:supplied by Kathryn HollandMore like twins than siblings - Kathryn and Paul Holland during their early years in Leeds. Paul died in December 2019, but an inquest only told a fraction of his story his sister says Picture:supplied by Kathryn Holland

She had gone to his house in Great Yarmouth, more to reassure her children he was okay, and was comforted to see festive lights twinkling in the window as she approached.

There had been some concern from Ania, 24, when they failed to reach him on the telephone.

But it wasn’t unusual for him to go to ground in the days he wasn’t caring for his mother, and there were no red flags.

However, standing on his doorstep in Southampton Place, Great Yarmouth, having summoned the landlord to help her get in, she was just moments away from finding out he had already been dead for a day.

Kathryn Holland, from Gorleston, was unprepared to see the coroner's verdict making headlines in this newspaper following the death of her brother Paul Holland, who she has described as the most gentle, kind, and generous person anyone could know Picture: Liz CoatesKathryn Holland, from Gorleston, was unprepared to see the coroner's verdict making headlines in this newspaper following the death of her brother Paul Holland, who she has described as the most gentle, kind, and generous person anyone could know Picture: Liz Coates

While she and family members had been enjoying a folk club party and dancing the night away Paul Holland had died alone aged 51.

It was unthinkable and unbearable.

As children they had grown up more as twins than siblings.

Being so close in age meant they had always been there for each other and Ms Holland, of Lower Cliff Road, Gorleston, struggles to understand how it could have come to this in the end.

Paul Holland bought joy to everyone he met, despite his own struggles which meant life was often difficult for him Picture: Kathryn HollandPaul Holland bought joy to everyone he met, despite his own struggles which meant life was often difficult for him Picture: Kathryn Holland

Following a post mortem it emerged that Paul had a recreational amount of amphetameme in his system, shocking his family.

It was not enough to kill him but there had been aggravating health factors that silently combined to affect his heart.

An inquest was held in June, remotely, during lockdown.

There were some techinical hitches and a reporter from this newspaper was present.

Paul Holland who died in December 2019 aged 51 shocking his close-knit family who remember him as the most generous, happy, spirit who loved life Picture: Kathryn HollandPaul Holland who died in December 2019 aged 51 shocking his close-knit family who remember him as the most generous, happy, spirit who loved life Picture: Kathryn Holland

Ms Holland was alerted to the resulting story by a friend, and was floored by what she read.

Type the name Paul Holland into a search engine and you will find 233 words about his “drug-related” death.

The headline comes from the coroner’s verdict and is factually correct - but to see her loving, gentle, nature-loving brother so reduced in black and white was crushing.

It said nothing of who he was, and what he had meant, always smiling and always ready to hunt out the cat for a cuddle amid the planters brimming with blooms in her garden.

The natural pond Paul Holland built for his sister Kathryn's adult child Skye Picture: Kathryn HollandThe natural pond Paul Holland built for his sister Kathryn's adult child Skye Picture: Kathryn Holland

“I just got this terrible sinking feeling,” she said.

“I felt really floored by it. It seemed the tiniest bit (the amphetameme) had become the biggest bit in everyone’s mind.

“A drug-related death does not tell you anything about someone. A drug is what someone used to cope with something.”

Her brother Paul was not successful in the conventional way.

Paul Holland, loved nature and the outdoors. His sister Kathryn is keen to tell the story behind an inquest report published after a hearing in June 2020 Picture: Kathryn HollandPaul Holland, loved nature and the outdoors. His sister Kathryn is keen to tell the story behind an inquest report published after a hearing in June 2020 Picture: Kathryn Holland

His life could not be measured in terms of qualifications, jobs, or awards - his legacy was something deeper and intangible, a basic kindness.

As a child he was believed to have a learning difficulty and although he was dyslexic, it was never something that was properly explored or addressed.

To help him his family uprooted from Leeds - mum, dad, and four children - to Leiston, Suffolk, so Paul could attend the progressive Summerhill School where freedom and choice were the watchwords and it was okay to spend all day in the woods.

Lovely though it was, and his little sister was there for some of it to hold his hand, he left school with no qualifications, barely able to read or write.

It meant the adult world was always difficult and he was vulnerable.

He lived much of his life on the breadline, always in fear of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who would sanction him for things he did not understand, or for not applying for a wholly inappropriate job like a pharmacy assistant.

But through all this he had a warm, loving spirit and was close to his family, helping to raise Ania and Skye.

Although his problems meant he found it hard to ask for help, his ability to live in the moment meant he was a fantastic uncle, connecting with the world of the child in a way most adults find hard.

“He was just a lovely person. He loved to make other people happy. If someone was sad, he was sad,” his sister said.

“Although he did not achieve things in that sense of how we judge people he was just an exceptional person in all those other ways you cannot measure.”

After his death it emerged there was some level of self-neglect and that while he helped Skye to build a beautiful wildlife pond, his own home was in disarray.

“Maybe I am never going to know what happened,” Ms Holland said.

“He was an avoider. The stuff he found difficult he split off from, and engaged with the stuff he liked.

“For all the complications he was happy in life. He was a kind, gentle and generous human being. He had always been that way and in the deepest possible sense.

“Kindness was not just a mask he wore but was the very essence of his being.

“He didn’t ask for help and was good at shouldering bad luck with a shrug and a smile.

“That was my brother. A shrug, a smile, not wanting to put on others or cause upset, pretending things are better than they are.

“But under the surface of all of that, so much hurt and difficulty that needed taming.

“It takes a pretty impressive human being, to have so little in life but to give so much.”


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