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West Hampstead bookseller died from drugs overdose, inquest told

Community held memorial event for man who sold books in street for two decades

05 November, 2019 — By Tom Foot

John Henderson, also known as ‘Spider’

A STREET bookseller fondly remembered in West Hampstead died from a drugs and alcohol overdose, an inquest has heard.

John Henderson, who lived in Kingsgate Road, was found dead on the Black Path, close to West Hampstead Thameslink station in May.

The 47-year-old was sitting cross legged with a “crack cocaine pipe”, a half drunk can of beer and a packet of tobacco in his lap.

A bag of white powder was found in his pocket, St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard on Friday.

A statement from his GP, at the Brondesbury Medical Centre, read to the court said: “We were very sorry to hear of John’s death. He was a well known, well liked character. He could often be seen selling books at his stall with his three-legged staffordshire bull terrier Sugar.”

Mr Henderson, who was born in Clydebank near Glasgow and was known by the nickname “Spider”, sold books from the street in West End Lane for almost 20 years.

After his death residents rallied around to organise a fundraiser for his family, and a funeral at Emmanuel Church in Mill Lane was attended by more than 100 people.

A plaque for his dog, Sugar, who died in 2016, remains fixed into the Thameslink station wall in West End Lane.

In an emotional scene, Mr Henderson’s daughter Rosie Henderson-McGirr was reunited with a long lost half brother at her father’s shrine in West End Lane in the days after his death.

The coroner’s court heard he had previously suffered two strokes and was due to have treatment for Hepatitis C.

He had also reported “hearing voices” during his last appointment, in 2018, with his GP. He had an “involuntary movement disorder” that made it difficult for him to sit still, the court heard.

Camden’s drug and alcohol service had not managed to sustain contact, despite him bringing friends in to sign up for addiction treatment, the inquest was told.

He had been prescribed Olanzapine, a powerful anti-psychotic drug that was found in his system at the time of his death.

A pathologist said cocaine, codeine, a “street heroin” substance and alcohol were in his blood and urine.

The inquest was concluded in 15 minutes by assistant coroner Dr Richard Brittain who ruled out suicide or accidental death adding: “Drug and alcohol related death is appropriate.”

Rosie Henderson McGirr attended the hearing but did not give evidence. She had not known her half brother, also called John, existed until their father’s death.

In a toast to her father in an event put on in the Alliance pub, Ms Henderson McGirr said: “He was a lovely gentlemen – but no one is perfect. I’m not perfect. Every single one of the people in this room has had an issue in their life. Throughout his journey he had tried to make every single one of your days.”

Passers-by used to donate books to his stall, which he would then sell on.

Ward councillor Lorna Russell said: “He was a real character in West Hampstead, and I know the community will miss his kind soul and cheery attitude.”

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