Drugs Warning After Dunner Inquest

by Anthony Maurice - Thursday 7th August 2008

A leading drugs charity warned this week that “no part of British Jewry is immune” to the effects of drug abuse after an inquest this week heard that the Orthodox philanthropist who died in a car crash earlier this year had cocaine in his system.

Father-of-nine Benzion Dunner, who was described as one of the world’s greatest contributors to charity, died instantly in March when his car clipped another vehicle it was overtaking and crashed into trees as he drove from London to Bournemouth.

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A family friend and two of his sons were passengers in the car at the time, one of whom pulled his father out of the wreckage.

A post-mortem showed he died from extensive chest injuries and toxicology results revealed that he had taken cocaine in the days before his death. On Tuesday, at Bournemouth, Poole and East Dorset Coroner’s Court, Coroner Sheriff Payne recorded a verdict of accidental death.

He said: “It has come to light that he had cocaine in his system. One of the effects of that is you do become reckless, you do not perceive matters perilously. There are recorded incidents of people pulling in too sharply and of losing control of their vehicles whilst under the influence of that drug. That must be a contributory factor in what happened.”

Toxicologist Dr Peter Sharp, meanwhile said Dunner had taken cocaine “in the last few days” before his death and it would have affected his driving. The clinical forensic toxicologist did not measure the exact amount of cocaine in his blood and urine but said it was “well below’” toxic levels.

Amid reports that he had donated £2m to those in need on Purim a few nights earlier, Benzion’s untimely death attracted national newspaper headlines and thousands gathered outside his Golders Green home in the immediate aftermath to pay their final respects.

On Tuesday, Payne praised Benzion’s charity work, including his role in founding three schools. “He has been noted for his good works and everything he has tried to do for the Jewish community."

Reflecting the pain felt by the community, meanwhile, Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, said the loss of Benzion was tragic for his family and the entire Jewish community.
Responding to the inevitable questions raised by the case, the rabbi, who set up Drugsline to raise awareness in the Jewish community about the issue of drugs, told the Jewish News: “Sadly, no part of British Jewry is immune to addiction or the effects of recreational drug use.”

He added: “We have had an increase of calls to the crisis line from Orthodox Jewish individuals and we are laying the foundations for a North London base in response to this growing need. We have trained volunteers who are dedicated to supporting members of the Orthodox Jewish community and who understand the cultural sensitivities. Prevention is better than cure - it is very important to address this issue early on - and not just with young people but also their parents, grandparents and carers.”

Sonia Douek, of Jewish Care’s Family carers support service, added: “Just as in the wider community, people in the Orthodox community are exposed to and affected by drug usage and addiction. For all sorts of reasons people may use or become addicted to alcohol or drugs or turn to gambling.

“In close-knit communities, the shame associated with this behaviour means that individuals and their families find it hard to come forward and get help. Jewish Care’s work with families affected by addictions has shown us that even members of the most orthodox families can benefit from the support and guidance we provide. We hope this will highlight how important that support is to obtain.”

• For further advice, contact Drugsline on 0808 1606606 or Jewish Care on 020 8922 2222

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