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