Interview - Louise Tredgold: 'They might as well have given him a loaded gun'

After losing her son to a drugs overdose, Louise Tredgold tells Andrew Robinson why she blames local addicts for his death.

A small box of keepsakes containing a blue babygro and a pile of photographs bring back some happy memories for Louise Tredgold.

Her son Antony, smiling proudly, is pictured as a little boy, holding a fish caught with the help of his granddad, Bernard Gee.

In another, he is laughing as his sisters bury him in sand on a Skegness beach: happier times that now seem a long time ago for 35-year-old Mrs Tredgold.

"I had Antony four weeks before my 18th birthday – he only weighed 5lb 4oz, all his clothes were too big for him," she says, laughing at the memory.

"I devoted my life to him. They told me that I couldn't have kids, so when I had him he was like my little miracle and I suppose I spoilt him a bit. He got all my attention and we always had a close relationship, a bit like best friends."

Ten months after his tragic death on a friend's sofa, she now feels able to speak about his life and how he became involved with drugs at such a young age.

"I enjoy talking about him now," she says. "He was a proper little character who hated anyone being upset. If you were upset, he would cuddle you and make you laugh."

Antony – or Tony, which she prefers – was at heart a "well-mannered mummy's boy" who kept his bedroom immaculate, would stand up on buses for old ladies and would go to his grandma's on Mischief Night to ensure she was safe from the local yobs.

But those local yobs were eventually to be his downfall, she says.

The village of South Kirkby, a former mining community near Pontefract, has no shortage of yobs, particularly drug users, she says, and by the age of 13 Tony was hanging around with "idiots".

To make things worse, Tony had developed some form of mental illness and his mother suspects he may have had a form of autism which seemed to make him more easily led by others.

"I knew something was wrong but we could not put our finger on it. We tried to get him tested for Asperger's because one of his teachers said he seemed to have some of the characteristics of that. But he was never diagnosed."

A family tragedy when Tony was a little boy overshadowed all their lives and had a particular effect on the young boy as he grew up.

When Tony was four, his father, John Duffy, died after being stabbed in an incident at a local scrapyard. It went to a court trial, but no-one was convicted over his death.

As Tony got older he would ask his mother questions about his death and what kind of man his father was.

"He always missed his dad and would ask me about him. Someone told him that his dad was stabbed in the heart with a big Bowie knife – that kind of comment hurt him. His dad was a bit of a bad one but was always a really good dad to him, and Tony never got that relationship with anybody else."

Mrs Tredgold tried in vain to use the memory of her former partner to instil some discipline in the increasingly difficult teenager.

"I told him that his dad never wanted him to go down the path of drugs and trouble."

By the time he was 13 or 14, she discovered that her son was smoking cannabis. He also admitted dabbling in prescription drugs like diazepam /valium.

Among teenagers in South Kirkby, and many other communities like it in Yorkshire, experimenting with drugs is not unusual and Mrs Tredgold candidly explained the dangers to her son.

But three weeks before his death from an overdose of methadone, a prescription drug used by recovering heroin addicts, Mrs Tredgold discovered Tony had stolen a mobile phone and an electronic game disc belonging to his sisters.

It was the final straw and she asked her son to move out, though she did not ban him from calling around for a chat.

"We still had a really close relationship but I told him he could not come in the house. He said he was sorry and that he was going to get the things back he had sold. He went to an agency to try to get a job. I told him he could come back as soon as he replaced the things."

After moving out, Tony's naive experimentation with drugs continued as he stayed at the homes of relatives and friends.

One day he got hold of a bottle of methadone, though it is likely he had no idea what it was.

His mother believes he would not have taken it had he known it was methadone, as he would have been aware it was for use by heroin users.

She thinks a drug user told Tony he would "get a buzz out of it".

"Naively, he took it. He had no tolerance to the drug and it wiped him out. I want people to realise that it only takes just that one time. He was not a hard-core drug addict."

At an inquest into Tony's death last week, the coroner said that it was probably Tony's first taste of methadone. It killed him as he slept.

"The reason I want to tell my story is not because I am feeling sorry for myself, but to let people know there is a danger in taking something once. Even though this is a prescription drug, it has wiped him out. He took a chance and he lost."

She does not blame herself or Tony for what happened but puts the blame firmly on the person who allegedly supplied the methadone. Despite extensive police inquiries, no-one was charged, although two addicts did tell police they had lost their methadone after picking it up from the chemist.

Mrs Tredgold said: "The person he got that off may as well have given him a loaded gun.

"I hope they feel it in their hearts and their heads every day. They might as well have given him a loaded gun to play with. I blame them for giving it to him, they knew it could kill somebody."

Ten months on, Mrs Tredgold is still struggling to come to terms with the death of her oldest child.

She is taking antidepressants to cope with the trauma and had to give up her hairdressing business and move home because the memories of Tony in the old house were too much to bear.

"There is not a minute where I don't think about him. He is the last thing I think of at night and the first thing I think of in the morning. When I see people in the street I think of him."

Breaking down in tears, she says every member of her family is full of regrets and "what ifs?"

"What if social services had done more? I asked for help and someone came out but I was made to feel like I could not cope. They gave me a booklet about coping with teenagers. But I have looked after kids all my life and I could see the direction he was going in."

Support from her friends has been "amazing" but she admits she is only putting on a brave face.

"I did have my own hairdressing shop in Ackworth but customers asked how I was and I could not handle it. People were so nice I tried to be strong for them. I found that when I got home I could not face anything. It was like someone had ripped half my heart out and I was still expected to be mum to two daughters and do normal things. I gave up the shop after he died and have not worked since."

The aftermath of Tony's death also led to her breaking up with her husband of 10 years.

After 10 months of village rumours and Facebook gossip about her son's death, she hopes that her story has now set at least some of the record straight.

"He did not die with a needle sticking out of his arm. He had never touched heroin or methadone before. He didn't realise it was methadone, there was no writing on the bottle. I just hope now that one kid or one mother reads this and it makes a difference. I can't fetch him back but if something positive can come out of it, that would make

a difference."