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A pig’s head, 100 trebles and urine apple-bobbing: The initiation that led to Ed Farmer’s tragic death

He died of cardiac arrest after having five times the drink-drive limit of alcohol in his blood


Newcastle University student Ed Farmer died after an Agricultural Society initiation event in December 2016. The 20-year-old's death was caused by cardiorespiratory arrest through alcohol poisoning due to the consumption of "excessive amounts of alcohol". The coroner report showed excess fluid in Mr Farmer's lungs and a starvation of oxygen to the brain.

The night before his death, Ed had been out on an Agric initiation. The initiation activities included students shaving their heads, downing 100 trebles between 40 people and taking shots from a pig's head.

After Ed's death, an inquest was opened but was later adjourned as his parents questioned the evidence on which the inquest was being based. The case was re-opened yesterday with further evidence of what happened that night.

The initiation

Members of the Agricultural Society were invited to the bar crawl. They were told to bring a 70cl bottle of spirits, money, a Metro ticket, swimming goggles, a Kinder Egg and lubrication, according to Coroner Karen Dilks.

The group headed to a number of pubs and bars across Newcastle including The Three Bulls Head Pub, where they purchased 100 trebles shared between just 40 of them. This happened again at at least one other bar. At Beyond Bar later, the freshers had between four and six drinks each.

The initiation went back to the Chairman's house in Jesmond where they then drank vodka from a pig's head and crawled to the garage to have their heads shaved. Ed was included in this ritual, and CCTV footage shows earlier in the evening he had been unable to walk and had to be carried. He was carried off the Metro at West Jesmond and driven to the house on Sanderson Road.

Other activities that night included apple-bobbing in a container of urine and alcohol, and the passing round of food such as chicken's feet and raw potato before they got on the Metro. First year students were given wine mixed with milk to drink.

Student Guy Barker revealed in the inquest that only male students were invited on the bar crawl. They were made to eat "foul tasting stuff like pots of mustard". Barker agreed the main aim of the event was to drink large amounts of alcohol. After leaving The Three Bulls Head, students went down an alley to drink from their own alcohol bottles.

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Ed Farmer

The morning after

Ed had been deteriorating throughout the night after the initiation. After having his head shaved by a third year student, Ed fell asleep in the corridor of the Jesmond house.

Some of the other students at the event became concerned about Ed's state in the early hours of the morning and noticed he was snoring very heavily. It was later confirmed this heavy snoring was actually the partial blocking of his airways.

Ed eventually stopped breathing and the boys present placed him in the recovery position.

James Carr, Chairman of the Agricultural Society, recalls he was awoken by another student saying they "needed to get Ed to hospital". When he got downstairs he saw that Ed was "no longer breathing".

Ed was carried into a car and driven to the Newcastle RVI Hospital. They arrived at 5:45am and he was in a life-threatening condition.

The toxicology report showed Ed was five times over the drink drive limit when he arrived in hospital with the alcohol levels in his blood being at 262 milligrams per decilitre. Had these levels been taken earlier in the night, they would have been "significantly higher", Dr Bolton claimed to the inquest.

Dr Bolton confirmed in the inquest the "official medical cause of death was a hypoxic brain injury, because his brain was deprived of oxygen due to cardio respiratory arrest." Doctors attributed his death to the effects of alcohol.

If Ed had been taken to hospital earlier, and arrived prior to the cardiac arrest, it is likely the outcome would have been very different.

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The Agric building

The inquest

The inquest was put on hold last year as Ed's parents raised questions surrounding the investigation.

There were text messages sent between students on the social that night before the initial police questioning which read "deny, deny, deny". Ed's parents believed these had not been investigated thoroughly enough.

Due to these queries, the inquest was postponed and has been re-opened this week with extra witnesses and layers of evidence.

Mr Kernyckyj, who is representing the Farmer family, said: “There are only three first years when they were the people who were the subject of this event, there seems to be a disproportionate number of people running the event compared to those attending.” Originally, only three freshers had been interviewed over the incident, despite 20-30 of the 50 people at the party that night being in their first year.

James Carr, the Chairman of the Agriculture Society at the time of Ed's death appeared as at witness in the first day of the trial yesterday. Although Carr admitted that he was aware Newcastle University do not tolerate initiation style events, Carr said: "The purpose of the event was an initiation – to welcome everyone into the society, but there was no requirement to turn up. They would still be included.”

Fellow student, Guy Barker, gave evidence this morning, on the second day of the trial. He confirmed that the bar crawl would not have been a nice atmosphere for freshers to be in. They were made to stay silent and "probably felt anxious and nervous."

It was also highlighted at the inquest that Mr Barker had left some details of the initiation event, such as the activities in the garage, out of his initial statement. This was due to him feeling "in a bit of shock at that point and not in a position to give a detailed statement.”

Another witness, Thomas Hoggen, said: "They had to go where we told them to and listen to us basically." He also confirmed "they didn’t have to do this to be in Agric, if they didn’t want to be there they could have left."

The inquest re-opened yesterday and is expected to last five days.

Update: Third day of inquest has begun

The third day of the inquest began today. Harry Sweeting, a first year Agriculture student in 2016, was the first witness. He told the court that the boys were given whole eggs, raw potato, chicken feet, baby food and some chillies to eat. He said the freshers had been warned to "be mindful of what we told people".

The second witness was Edward Hinch, who was a first year at the time. He said that the boys were not forced to drink: "It was by both your peers and the older boys – you’re on a lads’ night, you’re sort of egged on.

“I wouldn’t say forced, it’s more sort of banter.”

The next witness was Henry Linley who added that a pot of cinnamon was passed down a line for freshers to eat a spoonful of. He revealed that some second year students were going to stay up and take care of Ed but "ended up accidentally falling asleep".

Contributor: Izzy Hall

Other stories this writer recommends:

1) ‘Deny deny deny’: Texts sent between Newcastle students before police questioning over the death of a fresher last year

2) The Manchester rugby freshers were made to apple bob with dead rats at initiations