A “TROUBLED” man, who helped to create two award-winning gardens for the Chelsea Flower Show, died after taking a “significant amount” of heroin and alcohol.
Stephen Hatch, who devoted years of his life to gardening at the Elder Stubbs allotment in East Oxford, died almost instantly after injecting himself, an inquest heard.
Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court heard that he suffered anxiety and panic attacks, and struggled to come to terms with his past.
But they said he gained great comfort from his gardening.
In 2009, Hackney-born Mr Hatch was part of a team from the Porch Steppin’ Stone drop-in centre in East Oxford which helped create a garden for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show.
Along with 200 volunteers, either homeless or prisoners, they created the Key Garden and won a silver medal.
The following year they went back and won a silver medal for a second garden.
Steppin’ Stone director Nigel Northcott, who knew Mr Hatch for 10 years, said for the second year at the show Mr Hatch had personally grown plants and went to check on them every day.
He said Mr Hatch was a “very troubled man”, who had not achieved much in his life, but for whom gardening meant a great deal.
He told the inquest, on February 4: “There were things in Stephen’s life he felt desperately unhappy about. He went through spells of being desperately despondent.
“His mother died when he was in custody and he never really got over it, I think.
“He grew up in care and had a lot of demons in his life he was exorcising, but give him a spade or a fork and I have never known a man dig so thoroughly.”
Mr Northcott recalled one February when, after a day of gardening, Mr Hatch smashed the ice in a water butt to wash himself before going back to the centre.
He said: “Watching him dig parsnips out of soggy soil, it was like digging gold out of the ground – the delight on his face.”
The centre director said no-one there knew he took Class A drugs.
He said: “This was a complete shock. One of our members still says: ‘Now we’ll open the gate and Stephen will be down here like always’.”
Mr Hatch, 61, of Awgar Stone Road, Headington, died in the early hours of October 15 at the house of his friend, Stephen Thomas.
In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Thomas said he had tried to save his friend’s life by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while he waited for an ambulance.
Assistant coroner Peter Clark ruled in a narrative verdict that Mr Hatch had consumed a “significant amount” of alcohol on the night he died, and therefore had died an “alcohol and drug-related death”.