Durham University cyanide death student took his own life

Durham University student Andrew Etches, 23, was two days from graduating, but took his own life an inquest heard

The lane where the body of Andrew Etches was found in his blue Vauxhall Corsa
The lane where the body of Andrew Etches was found in his blue Vauxhall Corsa

A student created a poisonous cyanide gas to take his own life just two days before his graduation, an inquest heard.

Andrew Etches, 23, had passed his final year exams for a BSc in computer science at Durham University when he decided to commit suicide on June 26 of this year.

His body was found by workmen in his Vauxhall Corsa parked off the A690 close to the Stonebridge pub, near Neville’s Cross in Durham.

An inquest at Crook Civic Centre heard Andrew was in the back seat of the car and had a black plastic bag over his head.

A special constable smashed open the car window, though the keys were later found on the roof, and on finding chemicals in the car called in the fire service. The area was cleared and the officer needed hospital treatment.

In his last moments Andrew had attempted to write a note warning others of the toxic gas in the car but it was crumpled and barely legible.

Firefighters found evidence of hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulphide. The inquest heard Andrew created the poisonous gas using household substances.

Pathologist Dr Mitul Sharma said Andrew died from hypoxia - a lack of oxygen - and other bruising found on Andrew’s body suggested he was self harming.

Derwentside District Commander for Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service Ken Ball, who is also a hazardous materials officer, was at the scene.

He said: “There was a suspicion that the death could involve chemicals.

“There were bottles of chemicals and crystals plus a green liquid in a container in the car. Splashes were also found in the car which suggested that it had being mixed there. We wore breathing apparatus in order to carry out tests and we found high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the car.”

Detective Sergeant Steve Smyth, who investigated the death, said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Officers checked his student accommodation at Van Mildert College and found it to be almost empty. They also checked his computers but Andrew had removed the memory components.

Andrew had also left a note containing a line from An Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray, a poem often read at funerals or wakes.

The handwritten note, which was found in the rear of the vehicle, read: “Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight and all the air a solemn stillness holds.”

County Durham and Darlington Coroner Andrew Tweddle concluded Andrew, who was originally from Kimberley in Nottingham, had taken his own life.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer