Sheffield musician killed himself by eating toxic berries

Alexis Gotts died after eating toxic berries.
Alexis Gotts died after eating toxic berries.

A popular musician died after eating highly poisonous yew tree berries, an inquest heard.

Alexis Gotts, drummer of blues rock band Wet Nuns, apparently made himself a toxic porridge.

He was found lying on his bed at home in Oakbrook Road, Nether Green, alongside a hand-written suicide note which referred to the berries.

PC Peter Williams told the inquest into his death: “At the side of the bed there was a porridge-like substance with speckles in it.

“It wasn’t until I read the note that I realised what we might be looking for. It was consistent with somebody who intended to take their own life.

“There was reference to these berries and I also found a rucksack that had foliage in it and remnants of what appeared to be seeds.”

The hearing in Sheffield was told Mr Gotts, aged 32, worked for a nature conservation body and was knowledgeable about plants and wildlife.

His friend and housemate Nicholas Peach said: “I have never heard him talk about yew berries.”

The English yew tree or taxus baccata, which has bright red berries, contains the toxic alkeloid taxine.

The conifer’s seeds, leaves and bark are highly poisonous.

Death can ensue very rapidly once ingested although the inquest heard it was ‘very unusual’ for humans to die.

A pathologist said cause of death was self-administered poisoning due to yew tree berry ingestion.

His father Andy, aged 62, said after the hearing: “I knew about yew tree berries being toxic but Alexis never mentioned it. His job involved planting heather on the moors and he was keen on wildlife and ornithology.”

Mr Gotts and frontman Rob Graham formed the highly-rated Sheffield-based band Wet Nuns in 2009.

The duo made an album, toured the United States and played the Reading Festival before splitting in 2013.

At the time of his death last November, Rob said: “Leki took his own life as an end to a long and terribly difficult battle.

“Obviously we had our difficulties personally, but it’s important that you all know that the last few times we spent together that we were both back on good terms.

And all was at peace. I miss him.”

Mr Gotts, who was single, had a history of depression.

Consultant psychotherapist Dr Harriet Fletcher assessed Mr Gotts early last year after a previous failed suicide attempt.

He was known to have mood swings and trouble in coping with personal relationships. She offered him another appointment but he failed to attend.

Dr Fletcher said: “He felt negative about himself and that he could not change anything. He tended to be down for a time then better for a time. When he felt low he felt hopeless about being able to change.”

Although he was not suicidal at that point she felt further therapy may have been harmful so he was offered medical support.

Mr Peach, a bar manager who lived with Mr Gott in Nether Green, said he never spoke about his mood swings.

“But I was more aware of what was going on than he thought I was,” he told the inquest.

“He tried to disguise it, but he never sat down and spoke about ending his life or any methods he would use.”

Mr Peach said he last saw his housemate alive on Tuesday, November 11 last year and ‘he didn’t seem any different’.

But when he realised he had not heard him moving around the house two days later, he called the police.

“I kind of knew what had happened, wierdly,” he said.

PC Williams found Mr Gott in his bedroom but was unable to revive him.

Assistant Sheffield coroner Louise Slater recorded a suicide verdict.

She said: “I am satisfied that unfortunately Alexis did a deliberate act with the intention of taking his own life. These are unusual and tragic circumstances.”