David Hockney’s assitant Dominic Elliott died after drinking concentrated sulphuric acid while the artist slept at his Bridlington home, an inquest has heard.
Dominic Elliott, 23, died in the early hours of Sunday March 17 this year after leaving Hockney’s home on Kingston Road.
The inquest heard that Mr Elliott had suffered burns and blistering to his mouth, throat and stomach after drinking from a bottle of Knock Out drain and toilet cleaner, which contained 95% concentrated sulphuric acid.
Consultant pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd told the inquest that Dominic had traces of cocaine, ecstasy and temazepam in his system and died of acute peritonitis of the stomach, after ingesting the acid.
Dominic had been drinking and smoking cannabis with Mr Hockney’s ex-partner John Fitzherbert throughout the Friday night and Saturday morning before the tragedy.
He had woken Mr Fitzherbert, whom he still saw regularly after being in a nine month relationship before moving to York for univeristy, at around 4am on Sunday morning, and asked him to take him to hospital.
The inquest heard that although Mr Elliott was speaking when he got into the car to drive to Scarborough Hospital, he had lost consciousness during the journey. Attempts to resuscitate him at Scarborough Hospital failed and he was pronounced dead at around 5.38am.
Mr Fitzherbert told the inquest that the pair had retired to bed in his room at Hockney’s house at around noon on Saturday.
He said they heard Mr Hockney and his chief assistant Jean Pierre De Lima leave the house, at which point Mr Elliott leapt out of bad “laughing hysterically” before running out of the room and jumping from an internal balcony, to the ground floor around nine feet below.
The pair later went back to sleep, but Mr Fitzherbert was awoken by Dominic at approximately 4am.
He saw that Dominic had vomited a brown/black substance, and helped him clean himself up with a wet flannel, noticing an open bottle of Knock Out in the bathroom sink.
Dominic got dressed and the pair got into a Land Rover Discovery heading for Scarborough Hospital, while Mr Hockney slept in his first floor bedroom.
Mr Fitzherbert told coroner Professor Paul Marks at Hull Coroners Court that Dominic was speaking and able to get into the car himself.
During the journey, he saw him “flop forward” and lose consciousness.
While doctors and nurses tried to resuscitate Mr Elliott, Fitzherbert called Jean Pierre De Lima and suggested that they “clean up” at the house.
When pressed why he did that by the coroner, Mr Fitzherbert said that he had wanted to “shield David (Hockney) from scandal” as he had been in ill health after suffering a mini stroke just months beforehand.
He then called Dominic’s mother Karen Kent, who rushed to the hospital.
Karen, and Dominic’s sisters Beth and Poppy, were at the inquest and asked Mr Fitzherbert why he had decided to drive Dominic to hospital himself, rather than calling an ambulance.
He said: “He had asked me to drive him. He had put his clothes on and just seemed to be pale. I did not connect the bottle of bleach. He was still quite calm.”
The inquest also heard evidence from Dominic’s friends Mark Shephard and Christopher Towland, who spoke of Dominic’s ‘larger than life character’.
They said that Dominic did not have a drink problem, but occasionally drank to excess. They also said that he may have had a problem with gambling, but that they did not think that Dominic had suicidal tendencies.
The inquest had heard Mr Fitzherbert earlier say that he and Dominic had spoken about suicide while drinking into the early hours of Saturday morning. He also said that he had seemed ‘down in the dumps’ after being ommitted from a staff photograph taken by Vanity Fair of Mr Hockney and his staff some weeks before.
In Mr Hockney’s evidence, which was read to the inquest, he confirmed that he was at home on Saturday March 16 and went to bed to read at about 9pm. He had got up around midnight to make a cup of tea, but went straight back to his room.
He described Dominic as a “very intelligent young man”, and that he had been in a relationship with Mr Fitzherbert for around four years.
He said he believed Dominic had been jealous that Mr Fitzherbert had been to London earlier that week with Mark Shephard.
Mr Fitzherbert lives in a room at Mr Hockney’s Kingston Road adress after their 20 year relationship came to an end with an ‘amicable split’ four years ago, as does chief assistant Mr De Lima.
The inquest continues tomorrow, Friday August 30, at Hull Coroners Court.