The baffling case of a 22-year-old student found dead on a popular beach in the Canary Islands may never be solved, a coroner has decided.
Dr James Adeley told an inquest in Preston that what killed Scott McKinney, found slumped in sand dunes in Gran Canaria more than a year ago, will probably remain a mystery despite two autopsies and two police investigations.
Recording an open verdict, Dr Adeley told an inquest there was not enough evidence to show how the talented maths undergraduate died, just hours after jetting into the island alone to attend a gay festival.
“If it was my son I would be very dissatisfied,” he told Scott’s parents George and Frances McKinney from Chorley.
“There is simply not enough information to conclude how he died.
“Unfortunately it is a case of where he died, Spanish laboratories and the limited information we have to go on about what was going on in his life prior to his death.
“There is only one conclusion open to me and that is an open conclusion.”
The inquest heard Scott - an “extremely bright” student who had taken a year out of Edinburgh University and moved to Brighton to work in a nightclub - had cut off contact with his worried parents in the weeks leading up to his death.
Fearful something had happened to him, they travelled to the South Coast resort to find out why he was ignoring their calls, but missed him by hours. He had boarded a flight with a one-way ticket to Gran Canaria “on a whim” earlier that same day.
His body was discovered less than 24 hours later on sand dunes at Playa del Ingles, with a bottle of Jack Daniels by his side.
Toxicologist Kirsten Turner revealed there were traces of the drugs methadrone, ketamine and GHB in his urine after a post mortem in the UK by a Home Office pathologist.
But, because no blood samples could be tested following an earlier autopsy and embalming in Gran Canaria, it was impossible to tell what the levels of each drug were in his system at the time of his death.
The amount of alcohol in his urine was consitent with only having had three or four pints of beer, she added.
The inquest was told Spanish police quickly concluded the death was not a criminal act and so closed the file. When police in Brighton picked up the case they were hampered by a lack of information coming out of Gran Canaria.
Coroner Dr Adeley said there was no evidence of violence and no indication of disease which could have caused Scott’s death.
“There is nothing before me that allows me to say that the drugs found in Scott’s urine have caused his death - that is a long way from being proved,” he said.
“I don’t think it is open to me to even conclude that the drugs have contributed to his death. There is insufficient evidence to do that. So this leaves us in a very unsatisfactory situation.
“The Home Office pathologist says the cause of death was unascertained. The information that is available has not come up to the required standard of proof for natural causes or drug-related death.
“Death abroad is a particular problem for coroners. There is no agreement between our system and the Spanish system. We have to request information from them and it is not often we get it.”
After the open verdict Scott’s father George said: “It was no surprise, it’s what we expected. Obviously we would have preferred to know exactly how he died, but that wasn’t possible.”
Mother Frances added: “We visited the site of Scott’s death and, from talking to police out there, it was quite clear that what happened to him was quick. That helps a little.”