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Coroner: Artist David Hockney’s aide died after drinking toilet cleaner

The coroner said there was “not a shred of evidence” that 23-year-old Dominic Elliott had intended to take his own life.

Artist David Hockney (File photo)
Artist David Hockney (File photo)
Image: AP Photo/Sang Tan, File

BRITISH ARTIST DAVID Hockney’s 23-year-old assistant died as a result of misadventure after drinking lethal acidic toilet cleaner, a coroner ruled today.

Dominic Elliott collapsed and died in March after drinking Knock-Out toilet and drain cleaner at Hockney’s home in East Yorkshire, northern England, as well as having snorted cocaine and ingested other drugs, the two-day inquest has heard.

Professor Paul Marks, the East Yorkshire coroner, said there was “not a shred of evidence Dominic intended to take his own life”.

He also ruled that there were no suspicious circumstances or any “third party” involvement in the death, which happened in March.

Marks said he was recording a verdict of misadventure on the basis that Elliott took the substances he did in the expectation that there was a risk involved.

A post-mortem examination showed that Elliott, who was also a keen rugby player, had taken cocaine, ecstasy and the sleeping pill temazepam before he died. He had also been drinking and smoking cannabis.

Hockney, 76, one of Britain’s most celebrated living artists who is renowned for his acrylic paintings of Californian swimming pools, told the court in a statement on Thursday that Elliott was in a relationship with his own former partner John Fitzherbert, 48.

imageDavid Hockney’s house in East Yorkshire (Amy Murphy/PA Wire)

Fitzherbert still lived at the artist’s five-bedroom seaside home, along with two other men working in the art industry.

Hockney himself was asleep in his own bedroom at the time, he said.

Fitzherbert told the court that he and Elliott had been drinking and smoking cannabis, and Elliott had sniffed cocaine.

He said that as they lay in bed:

Dominic just got up from bed, ran towards the door laughing hysterically, and threw himself off the internal landing”, which was nine feet (three metres) high.

The two later went to sleep but Fitzherbert was awoken by Elliott standing in his underpants saying, “Can you take me to hospital?”

He saw the bottle of cleaner in the sink but did not connect it with Elliott, driving him to hospital rather than calling an ambulance.

Elliott died from the effects of drinking sulphuric acid soon after arriving at the hospital, the inquest heard.

The acid severely burned his mouth, tongue and throat before perforating his stomach, a pathologist said.

Fitzherbert said Elliott “liked living on the edge” and had been upset because he was not included in a photo of Hockney and his studio staff taken by the US photographer Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair magazine.

Hockney said he was “completely unaware” of what the pair had been doing that day and knew Elliott “professionally” rather than socially.

Inquests are held in England and Wales to examine sudden or unexplained deaths. They set out to determine the place and time of death as well as how the deceased came by their death, but they do not apportion blame.

- © AFP, 2013

Previously: British police probe death of artist David Hockney’s assistant >

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