30 April 2024

Family of poet who drowned say he would be alive had he received ‘adequate’ care

30 April 2024

The family of an acclaimed poet who drowned in a lake after disappearing from a festival he was due to perform at say they believe he would still be alive if he had received “adequate” care.

Gboyega Odubanjo had gone to the four-day Shambala Festival in Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire, with friends on August 25 last year, ahead of a poetry performance he was due to give on August 27.

An inquest into Mr Odubanjo’s death at Northampton Coroners’ Court on Tuesday heard that the poet had taken drugs and had started acting “bizarrely” on the evening they arrived at the festival, did not recognise his friends and wanted to be left alone.

The 27-year-old, from London, was not reported missing until around 4pm on August 27 when he did not turn up for his performance slot, with divers recovering his body from a lake on the Kelmarsh estate on August 31.

Senior coroner Anne Pember ruled that Mr Odubanjo’s death was an accident after hearing from the University of Hertfordshire PhD student’s friends how he had seemingly had a “bad trip” after drinking alcohol and taking ketamine and ecstasy.

Zach Hardman told the inquest the group of friends had arrived at Shambala at around 3.30pm on August 25 and after finishing setting up their tents at around 8.30pm, headed to a wooded bar area to drink and dance.

He said Mr Odubanjo had been in “good spirits” and seemed relaxed but had become “quite intoxicated” after taking drugs, something he would usually do at social events.

As the group danced, he noticed Mr Odubanjo was no longer with them, and Mr Hardman went to find him, telling the court when he caught up with him, he did not seem to recognise him.

He said: “It was like I was someone he had never seen before. I said ‘I’m your friend Zach’.

“He looked at me very intensely. He wanted to be alone. I thought the only thing I could do was to leave him and he would soon come out of that state and either return back to the woods with us or go to his tent.”

Another friend, Lola Seaton, told the court they had been having a conversation for around half an hour when Mr Odubanjo’s mood suddenly changed.

Her statement said: “He said something like ‘Am I free to go now?’. I was taken aback, but said yes, of course. It was like he was telling me to go away.

“We walked away from each other, and I went back to the group and told my friends he was acting strangely.”

She said she “did not think too much of it” when Mr Odubanjo disappeared, saying: “It’s normal to meet new people and make new friends when you’re at festivals.”

Northamptonshire Police were called to the festival site on August 27 with Pc Richard Umney telling the inquest Mr Odubanjo’s belongings were found inside his tent, which had not been slept in.

Pc Umney said the poet was upgraded from a medium to a high risk missing person, saying: “The effect of the drugs should have worn off by that point and he should have made his way back to his tent.

“All his belongings were in his tent. There was nothing to suggest he had been planning to leave.”

Mr Odubanjo’s body was later found during a search of a lake on the estate, with his provisional driving licence in his pocket identifying him.

A post-mortem examination found alcohol, ketamine and ecstasy in his blood, with coroner Ms Pember saying the amount found would have affected his cognitive function.

He was inimitable. We will treasure his loud laughter, calm measuredness, his sharp intellect and his love, all of which will continue to warm the hearts of his friends, family and writing community

After ruling he had died as a result of an accident, the coroner said she was “very sorry” to Mr Odubanjo’s family, who were in court.

Speaking on behalf of his family after in the inquest, close friend of Mr Odubanjo, Tice Cin, said they were “heartbroken” at the loss of a “loving son and brother, treasured friend and acclaimed artist” and hope to work with festivals in the future to make sure those who attend are safe.

She said: “Gboyega’s disappearance was entirely out of character and remains a tragic and preventable loss, now ruled as a tragic accident at today’s inquest.

“Everyone has a right to be, and feel, safe while doing what they love. Gboyega had been asked to this festival to perform as a poet.

“With this news, we hope it will give us the space and the insight to move to the next stage of healing for his friends, family and community.”

Paying tribute, she said: “He was inimitable. We will treasure his loud laughter, calm measuredness, his sharp intellect and his love, all of which will continue to warm the hearts of his friends, family and writing community.

“In spite of the difficulties of this time, we look forward with pride and joy to the release of Gboyega’s much-anticipated debut poetry collection, Adam.

“In addition, the Gboyega Odubanjo Foundation, established in the wake of his passing, will provide a way for low-income black writers to be supported in their artistry and craft, continuing the legacy of Gboyega’s work as a dedicated mentor.

“We believe that if he had received adequate care, he would have still been alive.

“We will be working with our community to ensure that people are safer in circumstances such as this.”

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