COLLEAGUES at Maundy Grange have paid tribute to an award-winning voluntary worker who died after taking a cocktail of methadone and alcohol.
Lee Gareth Devine, 26, of Royds Street, Accrington, who died in January, had worked for the charity for about 18 months.
Last year he travelled to Buckingham Palace to collect a Volunteer of the Year award from the Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Shadow PM Michael Howard and the Duke of Kent.
Dorothy MacGregor, the founder of Maundy Grange, said Lee had moved from Scotland to live in Hyndburn and at one time was deputy manager of the charity's shop on Abbey Street.
She said: "When he came to the area he was homeless and had few friends but he had made a lot of friends before he died. He was turning his life around.
"He was a real character and everyone here really misses him. He was a great help to us when he worked for the charity."
An inquest into Mr Devine's death heard conflicting versions of the last few hours of his life.
His partner, Angela Johnston, said she had left him sleeping on the settee at about 8pm but a friend said the couple had come to his house at 9.30 pm and Lee had admitted taking methadone.
Neither witness attended the inquest but Lee's mother, Angela Halliday, asked for the hearing to be concluded without further delay and their statements were admitted.
The inquest heard that Lee had more than the the normal fatal level of methadone in his blood when his body was discovered in the living room of his home on Royds Street on 24 January. The effect would have been enhanced by the presence of alcohol and the medical cause of death was given as methadone and alcohol toxicity.
Mrs Halliday told the inquest she had last spoken to her son just before Christmas when he had seemed very positive.
Angela described herself as a recovering heroin addict and told how she was on a methadone programme. She said Lee was very much against hard drugs but did drink strong lager every day.
She said the day before his death a man she knew as Mark Phillips had come to their house and asked Lee to sell some methadone for him.
She said Mark came into the house and she saw him smoking heroin. This led to an argument between her and Lee because she was trying to stay clean. When he said Mark was staying she left the house.
Later in the day Lee and Mark argued after Lee had taken five bottles of methadone out of the other man's bag and refused to give them back.
That evening Angela went to bed at 8pm after taking a prescribed sleeping pill.
At 1.20 am she realised Lee had not come to bed and found him dead on the settee. Angela said she panicked, ran from the house, got a taxi to her mother's and called the police.
Martin Blake said Lee was a good friend and described him as "a saint who liked helping people".
He said the night before he was found dead Lee had come to his house with Angela at about 9.30 pm. He said Lee was extremely drunk and confessed to him that he had taken a lot of methadone. He was speechless.
He added: "This was totally out of character for Lee. I told him to go home and chill out."
Coroner Michael Singleton said that whichever version of events was correct it would not alter the verdict of misadventure.