Former News of the World reporter and whistleblower Sean Hoare used alcohol “as a crutch” to cope with the stress generated by the phone-hacking scandal, a coroner said today.
Hertfordshire Coroner Edward Thomas said Mr Hoare, who suffered from alcoholic liver disease, died of natural causes – but the reporter had used drink to help him cope with the pressure “generated by breaking the News International story”.
The body of Mr Hoare, who was thought to have been dead for some time, was found at his home in Watford on 18 July.
The coroner said Mr Hoare, 48, who had claimed that his former editor Andy Coulson was “well aware” of phone-hacking at the News of the World, had done “extremely well” in abstaining from alcohol, and did not drink for a year after being diagnosed with liver disease.
But in December last year he began drinking again as he became caught up in the phone-hacking scandal, the half-hour inquest at Hatfield Coroner’s Court heard.
Thomas said of the hospital reports: “He was indicating that he was using alcohol as a crutch as he was under stress due to the interest generated by breaking the News International story.”
He added that there was then a “steady decline” and that in May, Hoare was told he had irreversible liver disease.
Hoare last saw his GP on 7 July after he stubbed his toe and it became infected. At this stage he said he was drinking around four units of alcohol a week.
He was last seen by a neighbour on 13 July, and also spoke to members of his family on the phone that day.
The inquest was told his wife, Jo, was on holiday with her mother at the time as she had thought he was well enough to leave.
Hoare’s body was found after his father called police as he was concerned that he had not been heard of for several days.
Officers went to Hoare’s flat on 18 July, forcing their way inside after they saw a body when they looked through the letter box. They found him lying on his back across his bed.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Ross, of Hertfordshire Police, the only witness to testify at the inquest, said officers found no signs of forced entry or foul play inside the flat. There was a small amount of alcohol, along with an empty can of cider.
Thomas said pathologist Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl, who performed a post-mortem examination on Mr Hoare, found advanced stage alcoholic disease.
The symptoms of jaundiced skin and bruising-easily were evident as he had extensive bruising to his back and left side, which was consistent with a fall.
Thomas said Mrs Hoare had also confirmed that her husband fell over a lot and had “good and bad days” with his health, and in the weeks leading up to his death had often had little energy.
Toxicology tests showed “comparatively low levels” of alcohol in his system, at 76mg per 100ml of blood, just under the legal driving limit of 80mg.
Thomas said it was not possible to tell how long Hoare had been dead, but that when he died it was likely to have been sudden.