Preston Inquest: "Amazing" Chorley dad died after a long-term battle with alcoholism

A beloved family man from Chorley was found at his home address on January 29, after suffering with alcoholism for a number of years, Preston Coroner’s Court heard yesterday.
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William Coburn Willis, 48, known as Sonny by friends and family, had “struggled with alcohol on and off” during his adult life, but in Summer 2021 had successfully completed a week in rehab.

Following his detox, William who had diabetes, actively tried to maintain abstinence, but the inquest heard how he began drinking in smaller quantities in September.

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Assistant Coroner, Kate Bisset said: “He tried to stop the drinking a lot of times but he had too many demons I think to just cut the drinking.”

Preston Coroner's Court heard the inquest of 48 year old Chorley man, William Coburn Willis, yesterday.Preston Coroner's Court heard the inquest of 48 year old Chorley man, William Coburn Willis, yesterday.
Preston Coroner's Court heard the inquest of 48 year old Chorley man, William Coburn Willis, yesterday.

Attending the inquest was William’s daughter-in-law, who said “he lived for his wife and grandkids”, and William’s widow, June Willis, who had left the marital home in 2020, but had remained close up until his death.

A statement by June said “he was an amazing man” who “put his family first”, that he was not suicidal as far as she was concerned, and was fine when she last saw him.

Speaking in the inquest, June, who was with William for 15 years, said: “We were going to go to Blackpool at the end of the month… we loved it there.”

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However on January 29, William was found dead at his home on Longworth Street, by neighbour Jo Griffiths, who said in a statement: "At 10am another neighbour called John came to my address…he hadn't seen Sonny in four days, and usually sees him every day…I knocked and didn’t get an answer but I heard the dog barking.”

Jo tried again at around 5.45pm, but getting no response, and still hearing William’s dog barking, she looked into the letterbox and “saw Sonny's feet", alerting the authorities immediately.

Subsequent blood tests found that at the time of his death, William’s blood alcohol level was 162 mg per 100ml – twice over the legal driving limit – although it was likely to be more at the time he stopped drinking.

A postmortem found he had a bleed on his brain, most likely caused by a fall as he had bruising on the opposite side of his head, and he also had ketoacidosis - a complication with diabetes which involves the build-up of acids in the blood due to a lack of insulin.

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The inquest heard that whilst both the internal bleeding and ketoacidosis could have been the fatal factor, it was impossible to know which.

The fall itself could also have been caused by excessive drinking on that occasion, the ketoacidosis as it can lead to loss of consciousness, or a seizure caused by his alcohol withdrawal, which William had been known to suffer before.

Following William’s death, his dog, a blue Staffy called Diesel, who he was devoted to, also died due to ill health.

June said: “We had to get him put down, he’s with his dad now.”

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Born in Newcastle, William was a window cleaner by trade, but at the time of his death was not working, instead receiving universal credit.

The inquest heard how William’s drinking stemmed from family issues in his younger years, and he had tried abstinence unsuccessfully in the past, before being referred to substance misuse organisation Inspire in March 2021.

The first witness called at the inquest was Wendy Harker, the quality governance audit manager at Inspire, who said that in their April 2021 assessment, William was drinking three litres of vodka a day, but “he was really engaged, and keen to change.”

William took part in the workshops Inspire offered over the phone, as he did not want to leave Diesel unattended, which was also why he was delayed in entering the rehab facility organised by Inspire.

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Following his detox, Wendy said William had an Inspire appointment at the end of August to discuss his abstinence and was offered support in online and face-to-face groups, however he preferred to continue working with his key worker than signing up to their community New You service.

Wendy said: “In terms of his health, he was on mirtazapine [an antidepressant], he had lost some weight but was eating better as he was accessing food from a food bank, and he regularly saw his GP… he was feeling better. His daughter in law had a baby born in the pandemic... and he was keen to be involved.”

Following a check up in October 2021, William was discharged from Inspire, as Wendy explained: .“Everything was on track and we were happy to discharge him from our service, he knew he could re-engage if needed...we had no further concerns with him.”

However in a statement read out, his GP said by December 2021 William was drinking half a bottle of vodka a day, the last contact the surgery had with him before his death.

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Detective Inspector Dylan Hrynkow from Lancashire Police, attended the death scene and confirmed that he was satisfied that no crime, or other party was involved.

DI Hrynkow said a note was found in the kitchen drawer, which set out William’s wishes for after his death, but they did not not think it was a suicide note, with William’s wife confirming: “He wrote it a long time ago.”

Assistant Coroner Kate Bisset replied: “It expresses how much he loved you all and the dog, Diesel”, before also adding that it was clear that William “was much loved by his family and his friends”.

The coroner then concluding that his death was alcohol related, and said: “It's heart-breaking because William tried so hard… it is so tragic that he ended up sadly passing away… he didn't want to be defined by his alcohol misuse.”

For information on how to get support for excessive alcohol consumption, advice can be found on Drinkaware or the NHS website.

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