Rachel Whitear

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Rachel Whitear
Rachel Whitear alive.jpg
Born (1979-02-06)6 February 1979
Died 10 May 2000(2000-05-10) (aged 21)
Exmouth, Devon
Nationality British
Occupation student
Known for Death following heroin use
Rachel's discoloured body collapsed in the foetal position.

Rachel Jayne Whitear[1] (6 February 1979 - 10 May 2000) was a British student from Withington, Herefordshire who died following a heroin overdose. Her death in May 2000 led to a large-scale anti-drugs campaign in Britain, particularly in secondary schools, when her parents allowed a police photograph to be shown publicly – it showed her discoloured body collapsed in the fetal position. The school campaign was centred on a 22-minute video called Rachel's Story. The campaign was seen as an equivalent of the anti-ecstasy drive undertaken after the death of British school girl Leah Betts in 1995 and a parallel incident culminating in the death of Australian schoolgirl Anna Wood in Sydney.


Whitear was 21 when she died, having been found dead in her bedsit in Exmouth, Devon, by her landlord. She had been dead for three days when found. The image portrayed in the campaigns[which?] was that of a normal, everyday girl, with the message that it could happen to anyone[citation needed].


The initial police investigation was criticised for a failure to observe correct procedure, and the conclusions of the investigation were questioned. Fingerprints were not taken until two weeks after police were first called to the scene and officers from the Devon and Cornwall Police force originally investigated the death without a post-mortem examination.[2] Toxicology later revealed that the level of heroin in Whitear's bloodstream was 0.05 micrograms per millilitre, one third of the 0.15 μg/ml generally considered to be fatal. Because the case seemed to have been solved, no post-mortem examination was ordered. Two men were arrested in connection with her death, but were released without charge.


Whitear's body was exhumed on 23 March 2004, and a second investigation, by Wiltshire Police, this time including a post-mortem. The inquest returned an open verdict. In October 2006, the High Court overturned the decision of Dr Elizabeth Earland, Exeter and Greater Devon District Coroner, not to grant a request for a new inquest, after evidence from Russell Fortt, counsel for Chief Superintendent Paul Howlett of Wiltshire Police, told the court there had been a "highly material failure to carry out reliable toxicology tests which was compounded by the failure to carry out a post-mortem". He said that a significant body of evidence now existed which was not previously before the coroner. Additionally, there has been speculation that Whitear may have been killed by her boyfriend.[3]


A painting of Whitear by Stella Vine, showing her with blood coming from her mouth, caused controversy during the second investigation when the police backed the calls of Whitear's parents for it not to be part of the Saatchi Gallery exhibition, New Blood. Despite the controversy, it was not withdrawn.[4]

Her parents are considering legal action against the British National Party (BNP), who used the photograph of Rachel's body in a political leaflet.[5] The BNP have refused to apologise for the use of the image.


  1. ^ http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/news/Pages/pr170708_whitear.aspx
  2. ^ "Fresh inquest into Whitear death" at BBC News
  3. ^ "Rachel 'killed by Jilted Lover'", The Sunday Times, October 29, 2006
  4. ^ 16 March 2004 "Rachel portrait 'appals' family" at BBC News.
  5. ^ "Heroin photo used in BNP leaflet". BBC News. 10 March 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 

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